Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Australia to criminalise journalism

Imagine this scenario: Australian spies seeking to fight domestic terrorism borrow the tactics of their American counterparts and start running agent provocateurs to "flush out" those with terrorist leanings. But an operation goes horribly wrong, and actually results in a terrorist bombing, with explosives provided by the spies.

If the Australian government gets its way, reporting on such a bungle will soon be a crime:

Under the new laws, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation officers will now have greater immunity from prosecution if they commit a crime in the course of a "special intelligence operation".

Anyone who discloses information about such an operation – including whistleblowers, journalists and bloggers – faces five years in jail. If the disclosure endangers anyone's health or safety – or the effective conduct of an operation – then they face 10 years in jail.

The Attorney-General will decide whether an operation can be classed as a special intelligence operation after receiving an application from ASIO and there is no limit on how many operations can be designated as such.

The laws state only that ASIO officers must not be engaged in conduct that causes death or serious injury, involves a sexual offence against any person or the significant loss of or damage to property during the special operations.

But if there is a death, whether accidental or otherwise, the new laws prevent anyone publicly disclosing the death, the former independent national security legislation monitor, lawyer Bret Walker, SC, told Fairfax Media.

Note that torture is missing from that list of prohibited activities. So the Australian government can grant its spies immunity from prosecution for torture, and at the same time criminalise journalists for reporting on it. Ditto mass-surveillance, or spying on opposition MPs. Its a recipe for unaccountability and abuse of power. Which is the point. Australia's spies no longer want to be limited by its democracy, and their supine government is willing to rubberstamp it to avoid being called "soft on terrorism".

Lets just hope that this particular disease doesn't cross the Tasman. But with a majority government and a Prime Minister willing to pass any law his spies ask him to, it sadly can't be ruled out.