Written By:

Yvonne Ridley

Yvonne Ridley, writes for CAGE from Australia on the increased counter terrorism measures brought in by the current government, to allegedly combat extremist groups such as ISIS. But in the process they’re in fact infringing the human rights of the entire population, not just the Muslim community they were designed for.

Australians have a reputation of being laid back but I fear they are sleep walking into a civil rights disaster with the introduction of new counter terrorism measures, which will mean the surveillance of all their electronic devices and communications.

Even the media, which will face new censorship challenges and reporting restrictions does not seem to have woken up to this fact. Journalists and whistle-blowers who focus on security issues could face enormous risks especially when trying to expose corruption within the ranks of the authorities.

In the UK we have had our rights, freedoms and liberties trashed through ill-conceived, rushed terror legislation introduced by politicians who say they have to bring in new laws to protect us.

In other words they are destroying our freedoms and liberties in order to preserve them…obviously it makes no sense.

Civil and human rights groups and the anti-war movement in Britain have woken up to this fact, a little too late as far as some of us are concerned and I’m afraid the same thing is happening in Australia where I’m visiting at the moment.

The Muslim community is without doubt the target of this latest legislation but the attitude of “I’m all right Jack” from non-Muslims is very short-sighted. Now ratified by the Senate, it is likely to be passed by the House of Representatives in the near future unless there is a powerful public response.

If history has taught us anything then the new powers granted to the Australian Security Intelligence organization (ASIO) will one day be used against and directed at non-violent dissent against the establishment and authorities…and this is why we should all care and resist.

The new terror laws were rushed through in a climate of fear in answer to the “Islamic problem” posed largely from overseas groups like ISIS. While the Muslim community, already under fire in Australia, is bracing itself for the backlash, in the not too distant future the legislation will be conveniently rolled out and used against environmental groups, anti-capitalist groups, anti-fracking groups, animal rights activists and just about anyone else who is concerned about the wellbeing of the planet and human rights.

Ordinary citizens face being monitored and harassed in the name of ‘National Security’ and voters are being very short sighted if they believe it will only be used against the Muslim community.

The National Security Bill – which was passed by the Senate last week as I arrived in Melbourne involves a wide range of reforms which will protect ASIO officers with immunity from prosecution for acts committed in certain contexts.

Had there not been some emergency amendments introduced it would have allowed ASIO officers to carry out torture without facing prosecution.

In addition, The National Security Bill is trying to redefine the term ‘computer’ when it comes to computer access warrants. The definition would be widened to include ‘one or more’ computers, computer networks and computer systems. In other words vast computer networks run by human rights groups, universities and campaign groups could be targeted in raids.

There are those who believe the issuing of one warrant could enable intelligence gathering operations by the police to rinse entire computer networks and servers for information. There is no limit on the number of computers involved in one warrant.

Computer access warrants are issued by the Attorney-General on the request of the Director-General of Intelligence and Security. Therefore the decision-making process would fall on the shoulders of one individual.

Dr Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, a lecturer at the TC Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland, says: “In the light of the secrecy and invasiveness that attend to ASIO warrants, the amendment proposed in the National Security Bill should be of serious concern to all Australians”.

However there has been barely a protest registered from the Muslim community or the wider community. Australian citizens will now have the distinction of living in the most monitored, surveilled society in history with the authorities being able to examine every angle of daily life.

Australia is heading in the direction of an Orwellian state, its citizens free from privacy and freedom under the guise of national security.

To quote Benjamin Franlin: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

(Edited CC image courtesy of Éamonn Lawlor on Flickr)


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