Could Australia sink into the technologically-enabled authoritarianism of its undemocratic rivals?

On August 25th, Identify and Disrupt passed both houses of the Australian parliament with support from both major parties, just one day after it was first debated.

Officially dubbed Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2021, the bill empowers the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) with three new and egregious powers when investigating federal crimes, or state crimes with a “federal aspect”:

In spite of the justification for these bills being the battle against child exploitation and terrorism, these new powers are both extreme in degree (technology companies are obligated to comply) and broadly applicable (i.e., literally any crime with a so-called “federal aspect”). The legislation was rushed through in less than 24 hours, ignoring the advice of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (a bipartisan committee) that recommended significant changes.

"Every increase in state surveillance has a democratic cost. Overbroad surveillance powers impact the privacy of all Australians and have a chilling effect on journalists and whistleblowers.

Given the powers are unprecedented and extraordinarily intrusive, they should have been narrowed to what is strictly necessary and subject to robust safeguards. That is why the Committee unanimously recommended significant changes.

It is alarming that, instead of accepting the Committee’s recommendations and allowing time for scrutiny of subsequent amendments, the Morrison Government rushed these laws through Parliament in less than 24 hours."

— Kieran Pender, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre.

This legislation comes after years of encroaching authoritarianism, including raids on journalists, efforts to force Facebook and Google to compensate the Murdoch empire for content shared on their platforms, the introduction of one of the most “intrusive data collection schemes in the western world”, the deregistering of minority parties, and the granting of broad internet censorship powers to the Australian eSafety Commissioner. Most of these mandates have come with support from both major parties, leaving voters with little say, in spite of widespread criticism in many cases.

At this point, the Australian government is sinking into the technologically-enabled authoritarianism of its undemocratic rivals, foregoing fundamental western principles along the way. And, most alarmingly, there is no significant political movement against this trend. This is obviously resulting in significantly diminished freedoms amongst the people of Australia. Additionally, I predict this will further cripple the technology industry, with entrepreneurs fearful of what will come next from the heavy-handed parliament of Australia.

18 September, 2021

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