This week the spotlight has shone on the American surveillance state more brightly than ever before. A number of high profile stories have broken in the space of just a few days, including:
- A secret surveillance court granting the National Security Agency access to metadata on all customers of the US’ largest phone company, Verizon
- A proposed bill to force internet service providers to design networks so law enforcement can more easily spy on individuals who use technology to defend themselves against surveillance
- A Department of Homeland Security report recommending that officers retain the power to search through electronic devices of travellers based on ‘intuition’ or a ‘hunch’ of wrongdoing
Separately, these scandals are a big deal. Together, they paint a picture of an administration with scant regard to the privacy or civil liberties of American citizens.
Here in Australia we risk going down the same path as the US. Our parliament is currently considering a mandatory data retention regime that would create the same silos of information that the NSA is forcing Verizon to hand over in the US.
And last week the Attorney-General’s Department asked ($) for powers that would allow intelligence gathering bodies to get at information protected from surveillance by programs such as Tor. This is exactly the kind of power the FBI is pushing for in the US.
The American surveillance state has quietly grown into a beast that is only now being fully revealed. Australia should avoid having to tame the beast altogether and abandon these proposals now.