Only three Australian ministers opposed the controversial metadata laws, and now the Senate has passed them.
It will surely have a chilling effect on press freedom, but everything – as usual – is cloaked in secrecy.
The government will establish a “public interest advocate” (appointed by the prime minister) and a “journalist information warrant”. And (only) 20 government agencies will be able to access the metadata (law enforcement, security and regulatory bodies). But the new warrant system will be secret, with neither journalists nor sources being advised when the government attempts to obtain their metadata.
What is all the secrecy about?
The public interest advocate will make a submission outlining the public interest argument for refusing a warrant, but will not be able to consult with said journalists or media organisations. Reporters would be forbidden to disclose anything about the “existence or non-existence” of any warrant. Doing so would be punishable by two years imprisonment. Of course there will be punishment.
And don’t forget the possible ten-year jail sentence for the rogue journalist.
There is a complex arrangement of “who can”; who can override; who can issue: who is not allowed to know… blah blah blah. It is basically all convoluted and secret. And the amendments also change the starting point presumption when the judge or the attorney general weighs the issuing of the warrant for “professional journalists” etc. Say again!.
I wonder if the politicians understand what they have signed?
And would these metadata laws pass the “Snowden Test” – i.e. would journalists like Glenn Greenwald be punished if they revealed Edward Snowden-like revelations about Australia? When asked that question, Attorney-General George Brandis says not. Whew what a relief.
But is he correct? I thought many Australian politicians considered Snowden’s revelations shameful and even treasonous. In a speech, Minister Julie Bishop said, “This is unprecedented treachery.”
What if the Snowden-like reports first came from a filmmaker like Laura Poitras – who interviewed Snowden? She’s a filmmaker not a professional journalist.
Also, is Mr Brandis saying that the hypothetical journalist would NOT be punished for disclosing and reporting a whistleblower’s expose of illegal government business, for example, but would be jailed for two years if he or she reports that an agency has a (legal) warrant for collecting another journalists metadata? This really doesn’t make sense at all. Please explain!
The metadata laws are a minefield.
And what is the purpose of a minefield – to scare people off. But, as usual, Canberra tells us it is for our own good.
“We must always be acting to keep our country safe,” the Prime Minister told parliament.
Please recall that on December 19 and 22, 2014, I wrote articles about the Sydney siege, calling gunman Man Haron Monis “metadata Monis,” as it seemed likely that the hostage episode would lead to new laws for the gathering of our personal data.
I noted that the Sydney Siege has created a perfect storm for more legislation regarding the removal of our freedoms, privacy and possibly internet clampdown. It did not take long for the newly appointed Commissioner (1 Oct. 2014) of the Australian Federal Police – Mr Andrew Colvin – to call for the sweeping metadata laws to be passed.
I was in Sydney this month, when the Lindt Café was re-opened after the Martin Place siege.
On Saturday morning (21/3/15) I ventured to Martin Place to buy a cup of coffee. There was a small line of people waiting patiently in the drizzling rain. But fortunately I didn’t have to queue for long as a large security guy waved me in. Inside it was jam-packed with well-wishers, and the curious, like myself.
The Lindt café is a huge square room with doors on all sides. Two sides face the street with glass doors opening to Martin Place and many large windows. There are double glass doors leading to a foyer, and what seemed a third exit on the opposite side. Perhaps there is a kitchen at the back, but it is not visible, and to get to the toilets one must walk upstairs. (It was said that Monis allowed women to go to the toilets.) Unlike one’s local coffee shop, the café is a very large, completely open area of tables and chairs (none of them in booth style) with rows of glass cabinets in which the individual chocolates are displayed.
It struck me as the last place anyone would attempt the holding of hostages – especially for 17 hours and into the night. It indeed felt as though I were in a birdcage.
Everyone was extra-polite in not making any references to the event or asking the staff any questions. It seemed, for that moment, to epitomize peace and civility.
There’s a lovely plaque in the memory of Tori Johnston, shot by Monis, and Katrina Dawson. ABC reporter Brendan Trembath said that after the 29 January inquest, counsel assistant Jeremy Gormley stated “Ms Dawson was struck by six fragments of a police bullet or bullets, which ricocheted from hard surfaces into her body….I’ll not detail the damage done to Ms Dawson other than to say that one fragment struck a major blood vessel. She lost consciousness quickly and died shortly afterwards.”
I wondered what surfaces the bullets had ricocheted off.
UPDATE: Sunday 29 March.
“About 2500 officials across the country will be able to sign off on access to Australians’ phone and internet records under the Abbott government’s new “metadata” laws passed last week.
A detailed analysis by Fairfax Media has found the great majority of people empowered to approve requests for so-called communications metadata are police officers.
Such data can be accessed from telco firms without a warrant, however the application has to be approved by a senior officer or official.”
This is no longer about terrorism. This looks as if this is about petty crime and also possibly just to “watch” people. How do we know whether we are being targeted because we might be critical of government policies? We are not allowed to know who is being looked into. As Christopher Brooks says in his comment: What a chilling realty!