Australian Decentralised Projects Offer Protection Against New Government Legislation

September 16, 2021, 2:00 PM AEST (updated October 06, 2021)

The Australian government has passed its new amendments to the Surveillance Legislation Bill, giving the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) new powers over online accounts and communication. This has spurred various ethics and law groups to comment on the rationality of the bill.

The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 was revised and amended earlier this month, giving the AFP and ACIC powers to surveil, intercept data, and alter data online.

Concerns have been raised by various groups and, according to the Human Rights Law Centre, the bill has insufficient safeguards for free speech and press freedom.

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.

Kieran Pender, senior lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre

New Updates to Surveillance Legislation 

  • Data disruption warrant: gives police the power to “disrupt data” by modifying, copying, adding, or deleting it.
  • Network activity warrant: allows police to collect intelligence from devices or networks used, or likely to be used, by those subject to the warrant.
  • Account takeover warrant: allows police to take control of an online account (eg, social media) for the purposes of gathering information for an investigation.

The two Australian law enforcement bodies will soon have the authority to modify, add, copy or delete your data should you become a suspect in the investigation of a serious crime.

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, Human Rights Law Centre

The wording enables police to investigate any offence that is punishable by imprisonment of at least three years, including terrorism, sharing child abuse material, violence, acts of piracy, bankruptcy and company violations, and tax evasion.

In fact, refusing to comply could see offenders end up in jail for up to 10 years, according to the new bill.

Australian Privacy Projects Voice Concerns 

The Australian surveillance bill has been heavily criticised by Senator Lidia Thorpe, the Greens spokesperson for Justice:

The Richardson review concluded that this bill enables the AFP and ACIC to be ‘judge, jury and executioner’. That’s not how we deliver justice in this country. The bill does not identify or explain why these powers are necessary and our allies in the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand do not grant law enforcement these rights.

Senator Lidia Thorpe, Greens spokesperson for Justice

Enabling law enforcement agencies to modify potential evidence in a criminal proceeding is also a major issue of concern.

Under the Identify and Disrupt Bill, access can be gained to encrypted data that could be copied, deleted, modified and analysed even before its relevance can be determined. This significantly compromises users’ privacy and digital rights.

What’s more, legal hacking by law enforcement may make it easier for criminal hackers to illegally access computer systems via the same vulnerabilities exploited by the government.

How to Protect Yourself Using Privacy Apps 

Due to insufficient safeguards contained within the recently passed Identify and Disrupt Bill, Australia is failing to uphold its commitment to protect the privacy of its citizens. This means that individuals need to find ways to secure their own privacy through the use of technology such as decentralised services.

Many of these already exist, but Melbourne-based Oxen is a private messaging, anonymous web browsing and instant, private transactions project with privacy and security at its core.

A global network of staked Oxen Service Nodes power Oxen’s second-layer privacy tools and services, including Session, the end-to-end encrypted anonymous messenger.

Decentralisation is at the heart of Session’s design. The service has 1,500 community-operated servers that are currently routing Session messages for more than 200,000 users across the globe.

Lokinet, another service, is a low-latency onion router for private browsing, voice and video calls.

Blink, Oxen’s instant anonymous payment mechanism, powers instant transactions with absolutely no privacy or security compromises.

As methods for surveillance become more prevalent through the internet and financial channels, individuals who value their privacy are moving toward technologies such as these to avoid surveillance as far as possible.

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