Thursday, August 02, 2007

The most dangerous police power of all – secrecy

Ken at the road to surfdom predicted earlier that Howard would exploit the Haneef affair to push through 'stronger' police and 'anti-terror' laws, but even he was surprised at the extent of the police powers Howard is now pushing for:
1. Let the police go on endless fishing expeditions amongst suspects’ files;
2. Let the police do it on their own authority without having to get approval from a judge;
3. Don’t just limit it to terrorist offences – let them do it for any serious offence.
He's also surprised at the relatively quite response these proposed laws received in the news and internet circles – even ABC News last night failed to cover it!

Ken quotes from a SMH article to indicate the extent of the new police powers Howard is proposing:
POLICE and security agencies will be given unprecedented “sneak and peek” powers to search the homes and computers of suspects without their knowledge under legislation to go before Federal Parliament next week.

Police and security officers will be able to assume false identities to gain entry and conduct the surreptitious searches.

The warrant is to be issued by the head of a police service or security agency without the approval of a judicial officer. It can also be extended for more than 18 months with the sanction of the minister.

The lack of judicial oversight was justified by the Minister for Justice and Customs, David Johnston, on the grounds that a court or judicial officer might leak news of the warrant.
What is particularly troubling is the extent to which the laws will allow Federal Police to 'investigate' people without them knowing it – and do so without judicial oversight. I understand where you may sometimes wish to keep suspects under surveillance to gather evidence on them, or to see if there is grounds to pursue an investigation in the first place – or even stop them from committing an offence, such as a terrorist act.

However, this walks all over that fine line between investigating suspects to gather evidence and spying on people.

Roll on Big Brother Johnnie Howard.

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