Is The Government Allowed To Spy On Us?

We've heard a lot about data retention from our parliamentarians in the last couple of months. Although it is delayed to 2015 at the moment, there's a chance that everyone's Internet traffic may be monitored and metadata retained for possible later investigation from law enforcement and spy agencies.

But is that actually legal? Is it legal and ethical? The Castan Centre for Human Rights, based out of Monash University in Melbourne, has a great video primer on when and whether the Australian government is allowed to surveil its citizens.

Surveillance image via Shutterstock

The video below is the third episode in a series called Have You Got That Right, exploring the issue of human rights in Australia on topics as controversial and wide-ranging as asylum, euthanasia and the right to vote. This surveillance episode covers the human right to privacy and the government's laws around surveillance of its citizens, and what rights they are and aren't allowed to infringe upon in that process.

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You can find more videos from the Castan Centre's Have You Got That Right series on on YouTube, or you can head straight to the website. There's more background reading on the topic, as well as links to the relevant Australian laws.

Question: Does the government have the right to spy on you?

Answer: Sometimes, but not always.

Governments can collect information for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting serious crimes, and sometimes for preventing them. So sometimes police and security services can listen to phone conversations or see someone’s internet history.

However, with the spread of the internet and the increase in threats from international terrorism, governments have become more able and willing to ‘spy’ on people. The existence of extensive surveillance activities came to light in 2013 when Edward Snowden leaked very large amounts of information about the United States National Security Agency (NSA), and its secret and unprecedented collection of ‘metadata’ (essentially data about data) on huge numbers of people who are suspected of no crime.

[Castan Centre]

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