Feeds

Writing about an Australian Snowden would land Vulture South in the clink

Welcome to Australia, surveillance state

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Comment Australia isn't just passing a spooks' charter: it's creating a regime in which journalists would be as much at risk as the whistle-blowers whose efforts they chronicle.

Here's the bill, and here's the explanatory memorandum.

In spite of Attorney-General George Brandis' insistence that the government doesn't intend to target journalists with the laws, the legislation itself certainly opens that possibility. For example, the legislation includes provisions “enabling the Minister responsible for Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) to authorise the production of intelligence on an Australian person who is, or is likely to be, involved in activities that pose a risk to, or are likely to pose a risk to, the operational security of ASIS”.

If ASIS believes an operation has been leaked to a news outlet, it seems trivially easy to make the case that the recipient of the leak is an operational risk.

The new laws also introduce the notion of “special intelligence operations” (SIO). This is a new class of operation, protected by even stronger non-disclosure laws and offering penalties of five to ten years' jail.

“The offences apply to disclosures by any person, including for example, participants in a SIO, other persons to whom information about a SIO has been communicated in an official capacity and persons who are the recipients of an unauthorised disclosure of information”, the explanatory memorandum states.

The special intelligence operation is created by the authorisation of the ASIO's director-general or a deputy director-general. That's it: if ASIO's boss or someone on the rung below him decides that a particular operation deserves special protection, away they go.

The possibilities for clamping down on information are endless.

National security staff and former staff are also targeted, with new laws that would land an Australian Snowden in very hot water indeed.

When considering these proposed laws it is important to understand two things. First, intelligence warrants aren't like other warrants – there's no judge or magistrate sitting in chambers with a brief to uphold the law.

These warrants are issued by the Attorney-General and while today's incumbent may glory in the title of Queen's Counsel, there's no guarantee that the office in future won't have lesser experience, or more inclination to base decisions on political considerations rather than the nation's security.

Second, those deciding what is and isn't a Special Intelligence Operation are all executives. This means everything, from warrants to operational decisions, remain in-house. Independent oversight of their actions (as the UN defines it) will be entirely retrospective.

These provisions concern Vulture South because The Register does, from time to time, encounter sensitive material. If some of us don't write much for a while after such a story, you'll know why. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
The 'fun-nification' of computer education – good idea?
Compulsory code schools, luvvies love it, but what about Maths and Physics?
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
'Cowardly, venomous trolls' threatened with TWO-YEAR sentences for menacing posts
UK government: 'Taking a stand against a baying cyber-mob'
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Doctor Who's Flatline: Cool monsters, yes, but utterly limp subplots
We know what the Doctor does, stop going on about it already
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.