“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”
– George Orwell, 1984.
As the reign of the Coalition Party continues dragging Australia into fear and loathing style politics, the proposed ‘Telecommunications (Assistance and Access) Bill’ (‘Encryption Bill’) is ready to jeopardise its citizens’ personal information under the veiled premise of ‘national security’. The bill itself proposes to give law enforcement agencies within the government unfettered access to encrypted devices and messages supposedly all in the name of fighting terrorism. With the increasing advent of technology and its marked improvements (since using the landline and the internet at the same time was an impossible feat), the topical buzzword of the 21st century has now become ‘meta-data,’ or in other words: information used to help companies understand who you are as an individual.
The erosion of civil rights within Western democracies is mirrored in Australia’s data retention scheme, compromising the fundamental libertarian principle of the individual’s right to privacy and anonymity. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has been established to conduct an inquiry into the proposed Encryption Bill, who have also been informed that ‘dozens of agencies’ are routinely bypassing existing restrictions in the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, which presently permits only 22 security agencies to request access to unencrypted data. A recent article states that an increasing number of government agencies are requesting subscriber details, including names, addresses and call durations all through using ‘alternative statutory provisions.’
Such agencies stepping forward seeking to circumvent meta-data restrictions create an Orwellian phenomenon of what is also known as the ‘authority creep.’ The ‘authority creep’ sets a dangerous precedent of increasing state bodies seeking unwarranted access to the private data and personal information of citizens. In the present climate of social stratification, increasing surveillance of citizens sacrifices the right to privacy with the growth of the digital footprint. Australia’s very own champion of human rights, the Minister of Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, unsurprisingly encourages the hastening of the bill to be passed as he continues to politicise national security. Peter Dutton aims to capitalise upon the recent arrest of three men (suspected of planning a terrorist attack in Melbourne) to push parliament to give ‘urgent access’ to encrypted information; a transparent effort in concealing ulterior motives at best. Generic wording in the bill would encourage agencies to bypass standard measures in place to prevent access to people’s personal information. Our private conversations should remain private. To allow authorities to unencrypt encrypted data is the thin edge of the anti-privacy wedge. The bill proposes to turn Australia into its very own Big Brother state and it begs the age-old question: how much longer will our civil liberties be ceded in the name of national security?