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More interception, less scrutiny as Oz Senate passes wiretap laws

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Australia’s Senate has passed amendments to that country’s wiretap laws, allowing security agency ASIO to pass information across a wide range of government agencies, and apparently to conduct wiretaps on behalf of those agencies.

According to Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, the Australian Security Intellgence Organisation (ASIO) is already more scrutiny-free than similar agencies in the US or the UK. The new Act makes it possible for ASIO to conduct wiretaps on behalf of other agencies, by request. According to Ludlam, this represents an expansion of ASIO’s remit far beyond its stated purpose.

The senator also noted that the bill vastly expands the range of people with which ASIO could share information. For example, if ASIO turned up information relating to tax fraud, this can be passed to the Australian Tax Office.

Labor Senator Jacinta Collins agreed that ASIO is now allowed to share information with “a wider variety of agencies … rather than going through the AFP [Australian Federal Police], the information could now occur directly to the ATO”.

However, in the Senate debate, the government seemed unable to define precisely the range of agencies ASIO could pass information to, which Ludlam believes may be “right across Commonwealth and state agencies”.

Ludlam also raised concerns that the amendments to the act would allow information about individuals to be collected by ASIO and passed to other agencies, even when those individuals are not themselves under suspicion of any crime.

Since the Labor government and Liberal opposition voted together in both houses of parliament, the Greens’ questions were no more than a glitch in the passage of the Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010. ®

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