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Aug 23, 2012

And softly went our privacy into the night

Little concern appeared to attend another significant extension of the powers of intelligence and law enforcement agencies yesterday.


With the passage of the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 in the Senate yesterday, the Australian government gained the power to demand the storage of citizens’ personal data from telephone and internet usage at the behest of foreign governments. This was necessary, we were told, because Australia had to accede to the European Cybercrime Convention.

The convention, described by the US Electronic Frontier Foundation as “one of the world’s worst internet law treaties”, is designed to enable governments to investigate citizens of other countries for activities ranging from terrorism, fraud and child p-rnography to filesharing, political activism and dissent. Crikey’s coverage of the bill’s progress is here.

In the end, as expected, only the Greens opposed the bill, despite shadow Attorney-General George Brandis’ complaint that the government hadn’t even bothered to respond to the report on the bill by the Senate Committee on Cyber-Safety, which found several serious flaws in the legislation.

Brandis at least showed up for the debate. The performance of Labor MPs and senators in debating this serious intrusion on Australians’ basic rights has been abysmal. Apart from duty minister Joe Ludwig, the only senators from the government side who made the effort to discuss it were Tasmanian Helen Polley and NSW’s Matt Thistlethwaite. Nick Xenophon, Scott Ludlam, who had carriage of the bill for the Greens, Brett Mason and Brandis all spoke on the bill; Ludlam, following an epic effort on cluster munitions immediately before the Cybercrime bill, led questioning of the government and unsuccessfully moved amendments.

It was a similar pattern in the House of Representatives almost exactly a year ago when the bill was passed there: nine Coalition MPs and Adam Bandt spoke on the bill, to only six Labor MPs.

One of the innumerable tasks associated with passage of a bill for ministerial advisers is to queue up government speakers and give them talking points (based on material prepared by public servants) with which they can put together a contribution to parliamentary debate. The result, sometimes, are a collection of speeches that have a certain haunting sameness about them, but at least in this case the contributions of Labor MPs like Michelle Rowland, Gai Brodtmann, Graham Perrett and Justine Elliot reflected apparent interest in the issue.

Nonetheless, the sullen quiet with which this bill has passed bodes poorly for the broader range of “reforms” either proposed by the government or put forward for consideration, at the urging of officials in the Attorney-General’s Department, in the current Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s national intelligence inquiry. Many are from a wishlist of significant extensions of surveillance powers put forward by intelligence agencies and the AFP through AGD, whose officials could most charitably be described as having a depraved indifference to the basic rights of citizens.

Unfortunately the government, certainly under former attorney-general Robert McClelland as well as incumbent Nicola Roxon, has been disinclined to place any barriers in the way of the ambitions of AGD and its agencies. To Roxon’s credit, she has taken the initiative of inviting JCIS to conduct a public inquiry into the AGD proposals, including data retention, to which the cybercrime legislation is a precursor, something the Howard government never contemplated when undertaking the savage assaults on basic rights that formed its counter-terrorism and sedition laws.

Nor, it seems, have more than a handful of Labor MPs shown any enthusiasm for explaining why they’re prepared to support still further reductions in Australians’ rights to be free of the threat of surveillance.

Indeed, the bill has, some angry ranting from Crikey and the occasional newspaper coverage aside, gone through with barely a murmur. Australians appear genuinely uninterested in the steady curtailment of their right to privacy at the hands of intelligence and law enforcement agencies. It’s a peculiar condition for a citizenry that doesn’t have particularly high level of trust in its state institutions or its politicians.

AGD, ASIO and the AFP must be delighted and looking forward to driving the next set of extensions to surveillance powers, ready to roll even before the current set have received Royal Assent.



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39 thoughts on “And softly went our privacy into the night

  1. shanghai

    I guess we the people were all too busy being ignorant consumers to care about freedom.

  2. Alex

    I, for one, am deeply concerned by this legislation and thankful for Crikey’s reports.

    Cheers, Alex.

  3. SBH

    This can happen because the opposition obsesses over carbon pricing and refugees rather than doing their job of subjecting legislation to scrutiny

  4. Greg Jones

    Maybe it’s time to set up a watch-list of politicians who are happy to be serenaded while these incursions of civil liberties march forward.

    Why not? Unseen eyes are watching everybody else, so why can’t everybody else be watching them and monitoring those politicians who sit on their hands and do nothing, some, not even lip-service.

    Of course we have ourselves to blame, but the politicians certainly have n’t helped….kudos to the ones who have.

  5. Smithee

    This is largely because parliament is devoid of both brains and ethics.

  6. tinman_au

    Most people wouldn’t even know about it. Because the Libs backed it too, “the media” wouldn’t bother covering it either…

  7. Sexual Lobster

    People who think a vote for the Greens is a wasted vote: this is why you vote for the Greens. Thank you Scott Ludlam and co for standing up on this. This is a travesty.

  8. ian dale

    Australians are ignorant to what is happening because their major news outlets relegate an important piece of legislation like this to a mere mention while they pursue mindlesss c*ap such as the PM’s past work life or house renovations as featured in the tragic SMH.

  9. john proper

    Our esteemed canberra leaders are demonstrably IT illiterate, and are now selling out the average australian’s safety.

    When a fibre NBN (almost un-limited capacity) was discounted by pollies with plaintive wails ” it should all be wireless (a limited capacity)” I got concerned, now this extra invasion of our right to privacy, I am downright fearful.

    Couple this with the writing on the wall “Assange is the new David Hicks” , and it’s message, “the US can get you no matter where you are from, and whatever your perceived crime in their eyes is”

    I am more scared of the fall out on my life from this security sellout than global warming.

  10. Harry Rogers

    Thanks Bernard keep up the good work on reporting this issue. I’m gobsmacked at the ambivalence of Australians.

  11. DK84

    I only hope the Greens win more seats in the Senate in the next election or there will be no opposition to anything. My writing this comment may just have become a ‘thoughtcrime’.

  12. Gone Are The days

    The European Cybercrime Convention and the rest of the global surveillance apparatus is really world government by stealth. A world govt without realizing you are being governed. That is until they announce it and introduce themselves. Elected govts in Western Nations either aid and abet this or are completely duped into submission.

  13. izatso?

    No expectation of any proscecution of Crime Bosses, Drug Barons, Banksters, etc, etc from this Legislation ….. All the War Crime stuff will be on Secure Channels, naturally. MSN Media abrogates again, watches itself devolve to Irelevancy, having Parasitically chewed up and spat out its reason for existence

  14. Gocomsys

    > Australians and the MSM appear genuinely uninterested………
    Spot on. Stop right there. As long as the Aussie Colony hoists its “Little England flag” that’s not going to change in a hurry!

  15. Lisa Kunea

    “..The performance of Labor MPs and senators in debating this serious intrusion on Australians’ basic rights has been abysmal…”

    Well, they will be judged on this. It may take a higher court, but it’s coming. Until then their contribution is acquiescence, apathy, appallingness…a triple A for serving the nation.

  16. Daemon

    Have just emailed the following to Swan, after a particularly annoying email asking me to contact Newman and the LNP about job losses. In fact that won’t be an issue, as the sacked public servants can move to Canberra and be employed to invade our privacy.

    “Representative” Swan (to use the US idiom you seem so comfortable with),

    I just got your ridiculous email about Campbell Newman, and I have decided, that like bottles falling from the sky, you and the gods must be crazy, to send out an email offering to have a go at Newman et al, when all you do, as a representative in the electorate, (and not mine I have to say, I’m in Kevin’s area), is bend over every time those morons in the USA tell you to, and drop your duds, waiting for them to slip you a length, without losing your sh!t-eating grin for 1 second.

    This country, via its’ representatives, all of them, is little more than a lapdog for US policy, and you do as you are told, when you are told, and then have the balls to email me and say “have a go at Newman”.

    You sir, are a fool.

    You don’t listen to us, (we are called voters), even though you send out a wonderful survey which we fill in and nothing changes. Nothing. You still don’t listen. You still cop it up the bum from the yanks and are thankful and you DGAF for the ordinary Australian who pays your wages.

    Now to add insult to injury, you want a position in our bedrooms, in signing away OUR RIGHT TO PRIVACY.

    You are beneath contempt. Hardly a single labor representative even understood how important the debate about the Cybercrime Bill which we don’t need to be part of, but in your ever-worsening need to be done over by bigger countries, you just hand our rights over without so much as a by your leave.

    Sort of like Sweden when you think about it. They whistle, you wag your tail like a little puppy, along with your labor mates and say “please sir, shaft me again”, and as for the USA.. that just makes me cringe.

    At the next election, you will hopefully lose your seat, and whilst I’m not looking forward to a government led by an abbott and a bishop, at least we know they are spineless. You try and hide that fact.

    I don’t suppose any of your yes-persons will show you this, but in case you do read it, I have used generally small words, and hope you and they understand, that you really aren’t all that loved.

  17. Harris Evan

    Abuse aside, am I to understand that if a signatory to the security agreement under the act thinks I am a crook, Australia will enforce the surrender of my laundry list to enable some sleazy foreign minister to decide I am not acting in his national interest, and possibly arrest me at an airport of entry and lock me up until I tell him what he wants to hear, just to get out of jail? Or does it mean that the Australian Attorney General can contact, say , Germany , to check out where I am staying or what I am phoning my girlfriend about, and not telling my wife, (or threaten to unless I surrender my passport or turn my brother in to them because he voted Labor? Will our Attorney General be obliged to support privacy invasion at the behest of another Government?Just as well they can’t read my mind, I would be in jail quick smart. Never mind, after a couple of years in some gulag I will tell them anything they like.

  18. sabbers

    it never fails to amaze me how people believe the greens are the ‘big brother’ party, yet are the only ones to stand against real policies that take us down that road. irony is an understatement, liberals should be ashamed but such is life.

  19. drsmithy

    This can happen because the opposition obsesses over carbon pricing and refugees rather than doing their job of subjecting legislation to scrutiny.

    The opposition supports the legislation. Heck, with Labor running the place we’ve probably been screwed marginally less than we otherwise would have.

  20. Owen Gary

    Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither

    — Benjamin Franklin

    Still the NWO juggernaut presses steadily forward, whilst the people are fully focused on their little gadgets that show who they are, where they are, & who they are communicating with 24/7 with all the info then held so that any part of it may form some bizarre kind of incrimination against us in a future life where we may have become politically active. Then under a similar so called (Patriot Act) we are whisked away with no one knowing where we are, we could simply be put down as a missing person, or held in massive prison/concentration camps awaiting our fate.

    Yes Mr Orwell knew a thing or two & way ahead of his time, he also knew the game and even how it was to play itself out. I wonder what other old sci-fi literature is now starting to fit a more realistic picture. I also wonder how many of us here are to play the role of future resistance & those of us who would eventually sell out for their tenuous & fearful hold on life.

    Now that world goverments have sold us out and allowed the privateers to control the flow of all information we may as well roll over & teach ourselves to play dead, who knows it may one day actually save us. Next comes the (privatised prison farms) just like the ones in the U.S where you can be jailed for unpaid parking fines, yes folks the future is bright and still the people sleep……..

  21. Clytie

    I think people are going to wake up too late to this invasion of their privacy (and risk of their future freedom). They weren’t informed about this issue. Only Crikey, Delimiter and the Greens talked about it (thankyou all three for doing a much better job than the “major” parties or media groups).

    I first caught this topic on Delimiter today, then went to the ABC site and couldn’t find anything about it. Your government, and any dodgy dictatorship signed up to this “treaty”, can paw through everything you’ve read, written or purchased online, at any time, just because they want to. The criteria are suitably vague: they only have to have a “reasonable” need for the info.

    How can this be a minor issue? Only if people haven’t been informed about it. Instead, we’re distracted with “celebrity” gossip and sports “news”. 🙁

  22. Owen Gary

    A politician is nothing more than a businessman or woman, you could say they are publically paid entrepreneurs saving for their future fund.

  23. Ruprecht

    Geez those idealistic Greens who won’t compromise their principles are a scourge on our policy debates

  24. Daemon

    I recommend getting an extra email address and sending yourself an email using a few of the yank catch words like “b**b”, “president”, “FBI”, drugs, C4, semtex… you know the sort of thing, and just send it to yourself 3 or 4 times and see if that gets the little sweaty arsed c**ts out to bother you.

  25. Daemon

    My current view is that Australians don’t deserve privacy, since most of them don’t care enough to take care of the issues like this that make us a laughing stock in the USA.

  26. AR

    As many above have not, in sadness rather than fury, the majority are too dumb and selfish to give a rat’s.
    “When they came for … I didn’t say nowt coz i wasn’t… etc, etvc but when they came for me, there was NO-ONE left!”. Was it Redgum who sang about it in the 80s, “when they come for you, with knives in the eyes..”?

  27. Greg Jones

    [ I also wonder how many of us here are to play the role of future resistance & those of us who would eventually sell out for their tenuous & fearful hold on life.]

    There are answers to those questions, but one has to get slightly ( only slightly ) off topic to elaborate the answers along with lengthy explanations, a chalkboard, some chalk, a duster ( a wet rag will suffice ) and that will attract the ire of the ever vigilant moderator and the post will sit in moderation until 10.00am tomorrow morning and then be deleted all together.

    So, ..incentive??..no amount of stamina can prevail.

    BTW, Keane’s article is a gem. True investigative Journalism.

  28. Queen Clytie

    Thank you so much Crikey for keeping up coverage on this issue. I have to confess to not being actively monitoring debates on privacy and probably not taking it as seriously as I should have, but I have just finished Heather Brookes’ The Revolutuon Will Be Digitised and it’s certainly spiked my interest.

    When you couple that with lack of transparency of information by Government then it makes for quite alarming stuff, and Australians have to stop being so complacent. Greg, your suggestion of a watch-list of politicians on issues like this is a good one. Let’s start paying some attention to those pollies who are really paying attention to the issues that just go under the public radar.

    This is why we subscribe to Crikey and other alternative media, to have a more comprehensive picture of the world and more in-depth analysis of the issues that matter. Thanks, Crikey

  29. Owen Gary


    Well that’s it mate, “times almost up” I suspect that the big event we talked about is due within the next 3 months. A false flag in Israel with a big armed response against Iran is where my money is. (another war on terror no doubt)

    Possibly a coincidence but these surveillance laws were to be put on the backburner for a couple of years weren’t they?
    suddenly rushed through in time for what?

    Anyway something more is afoot with the “big corpse” holding back on their expansion plans at the mines & the ports. Would you proceed with big capital outlays if the shi-te was about to hit the preverbial.

    Anyway I wonder if we can get odds with unibet on this one?

  30. man on a bondi tram

    while freedoms are lost… the populace goes shopping…

  31. Hamis Hill

    Perhaps those rugged individuals/troublemakers most at risk (face it the sheep will not be at risk, that is why they choose to be sheep) should swallow down their pride and join a larger group of like minded people to cover each others backs.
    If you are going to draw the ire of “Authority” better to be politically organised to respond.
    Perhaps there will be many more political party members in the future.
    Could be the closest present day example of Adam Smith’s citizen militias which he said would be, essentially, needed for protection against the power of the state.
    If they come to take you away better make sure someone else notices.
    As many someone elses as possible. Sacrfice a bit of privacy for protection?

  32. Greg Jones

    ( Let’s start paying some attention to those pollies who are really paying attention to the issues that just go under the public radar.)

    Ok, the few that come to mind are within the Greens, it seems, but outside that they are as rare as hen’s teeth.

    @Hamis Hill – you make interesting points. The problem with anonymity
    is if you go missing then nobody misses you 🙂 I get it, but it’s still a shield from the tyranny of the dumbed-down majority.

  33. Greg Jones

    You see, there it is! Your comment is in moderation. What word could it have been? It? the? maybe it was was? or or?It’s not good.

  34. Lisa Kunea

    I know what you mean, Greg. You get an excellent piece published by Crikey which motivates then you sit down to give a meditated response, but then your reply disappears into oblivion.

    I real-eyes both sides here, there are commercial realities at play, bit its still a burning issue of great frustration and makes you wanna give up and stick with the forums where you don’t have those same moderation issues….as if anyone cares.

  35. fractious

    I’ve read this and previous Crikey pieces on this and not commented, simply cos I don’t know what to say about (1) how blind, stupid and apathetic most Australians are when it comes to critical issues, (2) the almost complete dearth of any real interest (let alone analysis) by mainstream media and all those wonderfully principled upstanding and fiercely independent journalists (Bernard and Crikey and a very small group aside), and (3) the superficiality, the apathy and the neglect shown by our elected “representatives”. If three-quarters of the latter can’t even be arsed to turn up (let alone make some positive contribution) to the debate, that says more than a thousand Bernard Keanes (would that the MSM had even 100). Most Australians really are too apathetic, even if there were enough journalists worthy of the name – just keep on feeding ’em enough gadgets and get ’em on the property roundabout and get what passes for the media in this country to ply them with too much gloss and trash and hype and promises of Never Never Land and they will all dutifully go to sleep. In the unlikely event enough Australians wake up one day to cause a stir, it will all be far far far too late.

    Nonetheless thanks Bernard and keep up the good work – I daresay ASIO and AFP and sundry other nameless arsehats have an extensive file on you.

  36. fractious

    fuxsake, moderation again. It’s a wonder anybody bothers commenting on crikey at all

  37. Greg Jones

    @Owen Gary

    “..Anyway something more is afoot with the “big corpse” holding back on their expansion plans at the mines & the ports. Would you proceed with big capital outlays if the shi-te was about to hit the preverbial…”

    Spot on Owen. The illum inated ones know when to crash their own companies and follow the script.

    As we both inferred, the London Olympics was never going to do it as the next big false-flag target. Too much conflict of interest. Did you see the closing ceremony? Wow! I have never seen a more illum inated endorsed sat anic expose in my life. They would never p*ss on their own parade.

    If you are not reading this then the mod has got me.

  38. Hamis Hill

    Are you, Owen and Greg, a couple of Celtic seers using that second sight to perceive the plans of those whom Adam Smith (another Celt) argued, quite rationally “had an interest to deceive and oppress the public”?
    You may have come across the “The First European Revolution” by R.I. Moore which describes, in detail, the period leading up to the Papal Crusade against the Anglo-Saxon Church of Alfred the Great.
    Sets out in detail the modus operandi and foundation of those of whom you both complain.
    Tracing this basic antagonism between freedom and slavery back even further, can any connection between the sword that the Celtic war Chief Brennus cast on to the scales weighing out the reparations paid by the Romans in 390 BC?, and Excalibur, the Sword of the Ard Righ “Arthur”?
    The millenia long antagonism between free and slave societies seems to be continuing even up to these very comments on the sinister legislation with the slaves well and truly beaten down and only a few wielding what remains of “Ex Cali Brennus”. The Romans certainly took that Vae Victis to heart.
    Only in the slave mindset is there never any room for a rave.

  39. Ian

    Perhaps the three quarters of our representatives who didn’t turn up for the debate felt a tinge of guilt at having to put their hands up in support of a law like this…perhaps not. Perhaps they are sheeple just like 85% of us continue to be even after 11 years of this concocted war on terrorism.

    The Greens are much, much more than a bunch of tree huggers and they’ve got a lot on their hand trying to deal with all this stuff.

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