Contrary to the popular belief that Australian citizens hold absolute rights to freedom and privacy, Australia continues to evolve toward a “big brother”-like society as the government strengthens the powers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
With the support of the opposition, the government expanded ASIO’s powers to share information from wiretaps and computer access with other agencies. The expansion came with the Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Act, passed in March.
Alongside this, the Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, now before parliament, will strengthen and increase ASIO’s powers to conduct offshore surveillance. It will also extend surveillance to organisations such as WikiLeaks and target anyone who organises in groups to campaign about political and social issues.
Under current legislation, the term “foreign intelligence” is defined as “intelligence relating to the capabilities, intentions or activities of a foreign power”.
Under the new bill, it is redefined to “intelligence about the capabilities, intentions or activities of people or organisations outside Australia”.
This new, broadened definition could be used to target a wide range of social and political activists and activist groups.
The new bill also says the collection of intelligence overseas will be expanded from when the Attorney-General “is satisfied that the collection of that foreign intelligence is important in relation to the defence of the Commonwealth or to the conduct of the Commonwealth’s international affairs” to whenever the Attorney-General sees a threat to “the interests of Australia’s national security, Australia’s foreign relations or Australia’s national economic well-being”.
A key motivation for pushing through this piece of legislation seems to be the desire to silence WikiLeaks and similar websites. Individuals involved in whistleblowing and truth revealing websites could be charged under the new bill.
“National security”, however, is merely a smokescreen for the political and corporate elites’ perception of public knowledge as a real threat to their interests.
WikiLeaks and similar websites have already revealed enough truth for the government to fear what else may be revealed to the public.
Julia Gillard’s December 2010 claims that the actions of Julian Assange through WikiLeaks are “illegal” remain ungrounded until the new bill becomes law.
More than 260 pages of secret prime ministerial briefing papers from November and December, obtained by Fairfax Media under freedom of information laws, show the Gillard government fears that WikiLeaks could reveal “highly sensitive and politically embarrassing” secrets, the May 23 Canberra Times said.
This is not the first time that “national security” has justified broadly defined, draconian and ultimately irrational legislation.
The Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 is a clear example of this; saying a person is liable for a “terrorist” offence even if a terrorist attack did not occur and the (act) is not connected with preparation for, the engagement of a person in, or assistance in a specific terrorist act.
Previously, ASIO had no powers to detain and interrogate members of the community. However, following this legislation, ASIO is now able to detain people without charge, trial or conviction, and conduct compulsory questioning for information gathering.
Legislation which allows the interrogation or charging of a person simply because their views go against government policy must be stopped before people's freedoms are stripped from them.
It is clear that these laws are not in place to protect the public. They can target anyone or any group that actively goes against Australian government policy or seeks to reveal facts the government would prefer hidden.
Australia's legal system is continuously being altered to benefit the corrupt and secretive agendas of the elite who fear transparency and knowledge of truth throughout society.
WikiLeaks is merely one of the many activist websites exposing the lies of those in power. It should be the elite who are held responsible for going against the interests of the public and not the other way around.