Australia's new Foreign Influence laws expand phone snoop powers

And maybe rules about the kind of dodgy ads Facebook carried in the USA

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced three new laws aimed at reducing foreign influence on domestic politics and they include new snooping powers.

Speaking at a press conference today at Parliament House, Turnbull said the bills are designed to prohibit foreign donations to Australian political parties and have been developed, in part, in response to “very credible reports that Russia sought to undermine the US election.”

Russia is thought to have done so tactics including political advertising, so the forthcoming Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017 will insist that foreign sources cannot fund such ads.

The centrepiece of the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill and Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (Registration Charge) is a register of foreign nationals who participate in Australian politics on behalf of another nation. The Bill also “Reforms Commonwealth secrecy offences, ensuring they appropriately criminalise leaks of harmful information while also protecting freedom of speech”.

The PM said another provision “Ensures law enforcement agencies have access to telecommunications interception powers to investigate these serious offences.”

The third law, the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 “introduces offences criminalise covert and deceptive activities of foreign actors that fall short of espionage but are still intended to interfere with our democratic systems and processes or support the intelligence activities of a foreign government.”

Turnbull said full text of all three bills will appear later this week.

The laws were modelled on similar legislation offshore and Turnbull said local additions have strengthened the drafts.

Whether they're strong enough to deal with situations like Facebook's and Twitter's automated advertising systems allowing paid propaganda to appear without a thought for its provenance remains to be seen. Vulture South awaits the bills to see if such scenarios will be legislated and what impact, if any, it will have on Web giants. Or small independent technology publishers that sometimes pipe in ads from advertising networks. ®

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