In August 2020, while Australians were suffering through the first wave of covid-19 restrictions, a bill was passed through parliament to give authorities the ability to spy on – and even impersonate! – Australians, without their knowledge and consent.

This unprecedented legislation gives federal police spying powers, by their gaining access to social media and email accounts, where they can add and delete information, as well as send messages. All that is required is the ‘suspicion’ of criminal activity.

The proper safeguards recommended by the specially set up bipartisan joint committee were not legislated, and the bill was easily passed, thus giving authorities extraordinary powers to target individuals based on ‘suspicion’. In the wrong hands, who is to say that these laws aren’t being used against those who publicly challenge authorities, to take down and suppress opposing opinions?

It gives the AFP powers to not only spy, but also allows them to “identify and disrupt” their suspects’ messages to their online correspondents and email recipients, by impersonating the account holder. And they can do this without a warrant that is signed by a judge or magistrate, only an approval issued by the government’s Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020, is now awaiting Royal Assent.

The question is: How much power does the government need over its people? And will we see these powers abused, especially given that amendments originally proposed to:

  • include safeguards, so that warrants must specify the types of activities proposed, and
  • be “reasonably necessary and proportionate”, and
  • include a sunset clause that would have these powers expire in five years,
    were defeated with Labor’s support.

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