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Border Force bureaucrats become super-spooks

Metadata access was just part of the story

By Richard Chirgwin, 17 May 2015

Australia's long sleepwalk into a surveillance state continued last week, with the largely-uncontested passage of the suite of bills creating the Australian Border Force (ABF).

As well as telecommunications metadata access, the legislation wrapped the Australian Border Force (ABF) in a protective coating of spook-power.

Last week, Senator Scott Ludlam warned that the ABF – a mash-up of the “border control functions” of the Departments of Immigration and Customs – was being designated a law enforcement agency under the Telecommunications Interception Act.

That means that Australian citizens who haven't committed a crime, or even travelled overseas, might still be swept up in a metadata request.

However, as an anonymous reader pointed out to Vulture South, the law goes even further than that.

In the digest of legislation needed to create the ABF, it's also noted that “the Bill gives significant law enforcement powers to all officers of Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).”

What that means is that the ABF will be able to conduct controlled operations which, under the government's new national security regime, means the agency now has the power to block reporting of its activities and pursue whistleblowers.

That's more than a trivial change, since it's already known that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has been investigating journalists reporting on asylum-seeker issues to try and uncover their sources.

The Guardian reported in January 2015 that Customs had made several referrals to the AFP on the basis that someone had leaked classified information to various newspapers.

It would appear that the slew of new powers given to the ABF would let it bypass such bothersome referrals, and conduct its own investigations, since it's now a law enforcement agency with access to metadata, and able to declare its own operations to be secret. ®

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