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Cybersecurity & Standards, Free Expression

Expert Report Led by CDT Finds that Australian Surveillance Violates Human Rights

In November 2015, the UN Human Rights Council—perhaps the world’s most important body when it comes to deciding what human rights mean and whether countries have complied with them—will be assessing Australia’s compliance with its obligations under the human rights treaties it has signed.  Together with Privacy International, the Australian Privacy Foundation, and the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, CDT has submitted an expert report to the HRC in order to ensure that the global community takes a hard look at the laws and practices of one of the NSA’s closest partners.

Our report addresses five key issues, including:

  • The extraordinarily broad powers of Australian law enforcement, intelligence, and administrative bodies to intercept and otherwise gain access to private data;
  • In particular, the ease and arbitrariness with which the authorities can and do gain access to highly sensitive communications “metadata,” which can reveal many details of personal relationships, practices, and beliefs;
  • The virtually limitless powers the authorities have to share private data with one another and with the intelligence services of other nations, such as the other “Five Eyes” states;
  • The criminalization of individuals’ efforts to ensure the privacy of their communications (for example, by using encryption); and
  • The adoption of criminal penalties designed to prevent journalists and their sources from disclosing secret surveillance practices.

The report concludes that Australia’s current laws and practices violate the rights to privacy and free expression found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the right to an effective remedy for any violations of those other rights.  The fact that the Australian Parliament is currently considering new legislation that would violate privacy and other rights by requiring communications companies to retain all of their customers’ metadata for two years lends an added urgency to these findings.