Controversial new encryption laws introduced by the Australian government give more powers to intelligence and law enforcement agencies and access to encrypted messages on some popular online applications in an attempt to prevent terrorism and organised crime.
Australian authorities are now able to read encrypted messages. Picture: Patrick Sison/APSource:AAP
The latest Human Rights Watch report has raised concerns about proposed new laws in Australia to use facial recognition technology and read encrypted phone messages.
In the World Report 2019, the organisation identifies significant human rights abuses in more than 90 countries and territories including Australia.
Human Rights Watch criticised Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system and the treatment of disabled prisoners.
It also looked at Australia’s cybersecurity and surveillance practices, noting that new encryption laws aimed at tackling terrorism, organised crime and child predators, did not do enough to protect against abuse.
The broadly drafted powers could enable authorities to force encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp to send their users fake software updates that would allow them to read their messages.
They could also secretly add others to chats, or turn phones or smart speakers into live listening devices.
“Australia’s new encryption law, by weakening encryption for some, will weaken it for everyone,” Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson said.
Labor helped the Morrison Government to pass the encryption laws without amendments in December on the last parliamentary sitting day of 2018.
Security agencies are now allowed to look at encrypted communications without judicial oversight or other safeguards.
Labor wants to pass amendments to the laws, including to improve judicial oversight, when parliament resumes in February. The Morrison Government has said it would consider these as long as they were in line with the recommendations of a joint parliamentary committee.
The report said another proposed law to create a database of people’s physical characteristics and identities also lacked adequate safeguards against abuse.
The database would link facial images and data from states and territories and integrate them with a facial recognition system.
The bill hasn’t been passed but was proposed in February last year.
The encrypted messages of Australians can now be read by security authorities.Source:Supplied
In general, the report said Australia had a strong record of protecting civil and political rights but serious human rights issues remained.
Those include the nation’s “draconian offshore processing and settlement policy” for asylum seekers who arrive by boat.
“The hypocrisy of Australia’s professed ‘non-discriminatory’ immigration policy was evident when it was revealed that then-Immigration Minister Peter Dutton intervened to grant tourist visas to foreign nannies on “public interest” grounds in 2015, while his office denied medical transfers to Australia for asylum seekers in offshore detention,” the 674-page report states.
About 1100 asylum seekers and refugees remain on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and in Nauru. Most have been there since 2013, and many have deteriorating mental health.
The government also delayed or denied hundreds of medical transfers from the islands to Australia for emergency treatment, ignoring doctors’ recommendations, and did not enact a bill that would facilitate future transfers of refugees and asylum seekers.
However, the government has agreed to transfer more than 100 children and families to Australia following an advocacy campaign.
“After more than five years, Australia’s offshore processing policy has proven to be nothing more than a cruel experiment in using suffering as a deterrent to seeking asylum,” Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson said.
A rally demanding the resettlement of kids held on Nauru on November 27, 2018. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAPSource:AAP
“If Australia wants credibility as a country that respects human decency, let alone human rights, then it should reverse this policy immediately.”
The report also noted the dramatic overrepresentation of people with disabilities in Australia’s criminal justice system, making almost half of all people entering prison.
Last year’s report found people with disabilities in prisons across Australia are at serious risk of sexual and physical violence, and can spend weeks, months, or even years locked in solitary confinement.
One man with a mental health condition has spent more than 19 years in solitary confinement in a maximum security unit.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also 13 times more likely to be incarcerated than others.
— With AAP