ASIO Could Use Tracking Devices On Advocacy Groups and Journalists in the Future

ASIO Could Use Tracking Devices On Advocacy Groups and Journalists in the Future
Getty Images

Fresh off their campaign to read your encrypted messages, ASIO could soon be able to put tracking devices on civil society groups and force journalists to reveal their questions under a proposed new law.

Earlier this year, the Government introduced legislation that would give Australia’s domestic spy agency ASIO greater powers to deal with “foreign interference.”

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment Bill 2020 was introduced to the House of Representatives in May. Soon after being published, concerns were raised about bill’s provisions, including:

  • lowering the minimum age for questioning from 18 to 14 years old.
  • allowing the Attorney-General to approve a warrant for compulsory questioning without a judge’s involvement.
  • expanding the use of questioning warrants from just terrorism offences to espionage, politically motivated violence and foreign interference.

Soon after, the Bill was shunted off for a review by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

TLDR: The Government asked for feedback on its massive expansion of ASIO’s powers and then is now considering what it can pass.

ASIO’s expanded powers under the proposed bill

And ahead of the agency’s appearance at today’s Senate Estimates hearings, some top legal minds have released how the laws might work in practice to the Guardian.

And their take? It could have a “chilling effect” on people speaking to journalists who would be forced to answer questions or face prosecution.

Plus, the way the law is written might give ASIO the power to use the expanded powers on civil society organisations, like environmentalist and human rights advocacy groups.

That’s because the definition of “foreign interference” is extremely broad, according to Dominic Villa SC and Diana Tang who prepared the advice for advocacy group GetUp!

They claim that by including clandestine acts deemed “detrimental to the interests of Australia”, ASIO would be able to include groups who are acting in secret — something, the pair says, is part of how these groups tend to legally operate.

And as a journalist who would be potentially affected by these laws, let me be the first to say: I █ █ █ █ that these █ █ █ █ do not █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ because I am █ █ █ █ █ █ █ about how they will be █ █ █ █. Got it?