Greens Senator Scott Ludlam is calling for greater judicial oversight of Australia's surveillance mechanisms to curb agencies from "vacuuming" huge quantities of personally-identifiable telecommunications and internet data.
Ludlam made the comments at the CeBIT conference in Sydney, where he argued that Australia's privacy laws were stuck in a time warp.
He said while Australia’s surveillance powers have kept up "nicely" with technological innovations, privacy laws "are stuck in the 1990s".
The gap has proliferated as both sides of politics attempt to avoid the perception of being soft on security.
“There’s a political dynamic in this country which seems to prevail, and that dynamic is bipartisan silence as to the slow scope creep of surveillance powers, because — I think — of the risk of being seen to be soft on security," Ludlam said.
“I can understand the rationale and justification for powers and agencies existing, but not open slather where privacy protections simply have not kept pace with technology.”
Many current surveillance powers came into effect after 9/11, "and most of it is still on the statute book year later," Ludlam said.
He said such powers were "exemplified by the way police and intelligence services are authorised to listen to your phone conversations.”
The Attorney-General's Telecommunications (Interception and Access) report states that 293,501 authorisations for access to metadata were made in the 2011-12 financial year. In addition, 3764 telecommunications interception warrants were lodged, with nine refused.
This compares to 243,631 metadata authorisations and 3488 intercept warrants in the prior year.
So-called enforcement agencies — "responsible for the administration of a legislation which enables them to enforce a criminal law, impose pecuniary penalties or protect the public revenue" — could seek telecommunications data without requiring a warrant.
“Dozens of agencies are vacuuming this material up, there’s no judicial oversight,” Ludlam said.
“If a policing agency justifiably wants to listen to a phone conversation of someone they believe is doing something horrific... they should need a warrant, judicial oversight.
"And yet, for those very same agencies, they can track your every online footprint, fingerprint without much more than signing a piece of paper."