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Government workers prohibited from tweeting about their jobs as A-G labels Snowden 'traitor'

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Australia's deserved reputation as a nation whose government likes to pry into almost everything online has "improved" thanks to two new incidents.

The first event saw Australia's government promulgate and then retrospectively made secret new social media rules for Australian Government employees.

The rules, allegedly published here by Fairfax media, include a guideline that government employees social media activity must not be "so harsh or extreme in their criticism of the Government, Government policies, a member of parliament from another political party, or their respective policies, that they could raise questions about the employee's capacity to work professionally, efficiently or impartially".

There's also this nasty rat-out-your-colleagues provision:

"If an employee becomes aware of another employee who is engaging in conduct that may breach this policy there is an expectation that the employee will report the conduct to the Department. This means that if you receive or become aware of a social media communication by another PM&C employee that is not consistent with this policy, you should advise that person accordingly and inform your supervisor."

Even better, the policy also catches any comment that might “compromise public confidence in the agency or the APS”.

The policy not only makes it a career-ending move to make Facebook or Twitter posts that criticise the government, in particular ministers, even anonymously: it also encourages staff to “dob in a mate”, “d0xing” (outing) workmates that use anonymous accounts to criticise the government.

The “dobbing rule”, should it relate to comments made in private (Twitter DMs or Facebook private group messages), probably breaches the Privacy Act.

But Australia's attorney-general George Brandis has a dim view of privacy, as he this week told American think tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies he thinks it is a useful tool.

Brandis told the Washington audience that citizens demanding government wind back surveillance do so without responsibility, in this address:

“Others, most commonly those who do not bear responsibility for the protection of the public and who have the luxury of approaching the question from a largely philosophical or legalistic perspective, argue that there should be much wider limitations upon the collection of intelligence,” he said.

His comments come a week after deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek also backed warrantless data collection in the name of defending us from terrorists.

The famous and controversial “five-eyes” agreement between the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand received particular endorsement in Brandis' speech: “That collaboration must continue unaffected by the Snowden fall-out and I am confident that it will,” Brandis said.

He added that the perceived shift to “lone actor” terrorism demand the kind of surveillance that, if Vulture South remembers things correctly, failed to stop the Boston bombing: “As terrorist tactics and operational doctrine evolve, security agencies must develop and maintain effective capabilities in order to mitigate the ongoing threat.”

Having the inside information that can only be obtained if security agencies provide daily briefings, the attorney-general said: “the more intelligence I read, the more conservative I become. The more deeply I come to comprehend the capacity of terrorists to evade surveillance, the more I want to be assured that where our agencies are constrained, the threat to civil liberty is real and not merely theoretical.”

He also reiterated his belief that Edward Snowden is not a whistle-blower, but a traitor.

Vulture South therefore welcomes you to join us in Australia. The weather's fine. Surf's up. The food is wonderful. And the nation's government will protect you ... if it feels like it. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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