Australia has had its fair share of legislative blunders as of late.
Take the metadata retention bill that has your mobile phone providers log information about your calls and messages.
Or the facial recognition software in Queensland that was only going to keep the Commonwealth Games secure, but then stayed for good.
Add to all of that the ability to tap into your encrypted and secure chats, hack into your social media accounts, and exploit potentially devastating security loopholes, and you have the Telecommunications (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018.
The Bill, which is backed by both Labor and the Coalition as it heads to Parliament today, will amend the current laws governing surveillance and communications, and add a whole range of new powers to get at your data.
Agencies like ASIO already have the means to see a lot of what goes on online, but encrypted chats and services were still safe from them – until now.
The Bill’s wording – built around ambiguous terms like “reasonable suspicion” and “systemic weaknesses” – will essentially allow the government to force its way into anything encrypted or protected, even forcing telcos and tech companies to help them.
“Everything is end-to-end encrypted now, and that’s why this is so important,” said Dr Monique Mann, a Research Fellow in Technology and Regulation at QUT and avid activist for digital rights.
Dr Mann and a handful of other technology specialists wrote a submission to the government regarding the Bill, heavily discouraging lawmakers from going ahead with it.
“[The Bill] could also mean things like tapping into the back-end of Facebook or Gmail and collecting information in a bulk way, and I have real concerns about that.”
Dr Mann not only laments the loss of human rights under the Bill, but also the process by which it was introduced.
“Around late August and September, [the government] released an exposure draft on the Bill and gave us, like, ten days – less than two weeks – to comment on 176 pages of incredibly complex legislation.
“After the ten days, they moved to introduce the bill into the House without really seriously engaging with any of the submissions or consultations,” she said.
Angus Murray, a colleague of Dr Mann’s in writing the submission, agrees.
“The direction Australia seems to be taking is concerning,” he said.
“We are rapidly progressing surveillance legislation and treating Australians as suspects and not citizens.
“Australians deserve more from our government.”
While small changes to the Bill are currently under discussion, Dr Mann and her team fear that not enough will change to protect our rights.
“In Australia, we’ve lost,” said Dr Mann.
“We’ve lost on things like mandatory metadata retention, we’ve lost on the very Orwellian-sounding national facial biometrics capability, we’ve lost on pretty much everything – even copyright, site-blocking and internet-filtering.
“The 45th Parliament of Australia has really attempted to break the internet, and have also been quite successful in breaking the willpower of activists.”