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AU Govt warned to take hard look in mirror after UK 'Snooper's Charter' ruled illegal

01 Feb 2018

Australian watchdogs Digital Rights Watch say the Australian Government need to learn a thing or two from the United Kingdom and take a serious look at its own mandatory metadata retention scheme.

This week the UK Court of Appeal ruled that surveillance under the UK Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, also known as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’, was illegal.

That surveillance included both mass and targeted access to personal communications data. Under the law, internet and phone data could be accessed without review by independent authorities and in situations that did not necessarily pertain to fighting ‘serious’ crime.

Telecommunications providers were also required to provide access and remove protections when asked.

The legal challenge was led by UK Labour MP Tom Watson and civil rights group Liberty. Closer to home, Digital Rights Watch Chair Tim Singleton Norton says this ruling is a wakeup for Australia’s own government.

“The Australian Government should heed this as a massive warning about their own mandatory metadata retention scheme, specifically on current plans to weaken encryption and seek ‘back door’ access to encrypted services,” he says.

“This is a very clear ruling that the UK Government has been breaking the law by collecting its own citizens’ phone and internet activity and allowing agencies to utilise these details without appropriate oversight.”

Because Australia has followed the UK’s law as an example, the ruling may have far-reaching effects for both countries.

“It’s possible that this ruling could have immediate impacts on Australia’s involvement in information-sharing arrangements under the ‘Five Eyes’ partnership, which sees data pooled and shared across borders including within the UK,” Singleton Norton continues.

He believes that Australia stands out as a country that is out of step with other countries’ approaches to rights and accountability for surveillance use.

We stand out, but not in a good way.Our Government seem convinced that warrantless mass surveillance is an inevitability within the developed world, but fail to realise that human rights are often inconsistent with this huge overreach into the private and personal lives of individuals.”

Singleton Norton says that lawmakers around the world should reflect on the UK ruling and the precedent that is being set by the changes.

“Attempts to introduce warrantless mass surveillance regimes are increasingly being invalidated on human rights grounds. It is time we came together as a global community to agree on what is appropriate State behaviour in cyberspace, and start the process towards a global treaty to protect individual privacy online,” he concludes.

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