United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants people of conscience and goodwill to “stand together against violence, hate and division.” An admirable sentiment, but what exactly does the world’s most powerful woman mean by “stand together”.
What is clear is that religious fanaticism is now front and centre of Australia’s national security landscape.
Last weekend’s ugly violence outside the US Consulate in Sydney might have been an isolated incident fuelled by a few hot heads, but the grotesque images of children and hate sent shivers down the spines of most Australians and security experts around the nation.
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Years ago, while visiting Leningrad, as St Petersburg was known in the Evil Empire days, I was approached by a svelte young Russian beauty who asked me if I would smuggle some of her private letters out of the Soviet Union to her friends in Western Europe.
Telegraph, telephone and the mail were closely monitored by the totalitarian state’s notorious KGB, especially when the addressee was in the decadent West.
Being a typical risk-taking undergraduate – I’d just swum in the half-frozen Neva River from the Peter and Paul Fortress on a dare – and eager to poke a stick in the Kremlin’s watchful eye, I happily obliged my lovely if oppressed new friend (and, yes, I would have done it even if she looked like a babushka instead of Natasha Poly; but it helped).
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The government wants to be your Facebook friend, follow you on Twitter, read your emails and text messages, and know which websites you visit. It then wants to file all that information for up to two years in case you are found to be a terrorist, crime lord or paedophile. The government also wants your computer passwords and might even send you to jail if you refuse. Creepy.
These changes are under consideration by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, and if implemented, will substantially increase the powers the intelligence community has to spy on Australians in the name of national security. Many of the proposed changes are of dubious value and a direct attack on the civil liberties of all Australians.
Increased powers to intercept phone calls, emails and other communications are just the start of the government’s assault on basic freedoms. For example, the attorney-general may soon have the power to modify warrants after they have been issued, and the duration of search warrants may be doubled from 90 days to six months.
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The United Nation’s World Refugee Day, celebrated yesterday, is an important opportunity to reflect upon the significant contribution refugees have made to the Australian community over many decades. The histories of so many Australian families are characterised by stories of courage and determination to make the journey to Australia to start a new, safe, secure and productive life.
It is also a time to reflect on the laws and policies that currently govern the way refugees are treated when they arrive in Australia and the processes that regulate whether and how they become members of our community.
Of particular concern are those people, of which there are more than 50 including families with children, who are caught in a form of legal limbo referred to as indefinite asylum.
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Since its inception in the 1990s, governments have long since recognized the democratising functions of the web.
But control has always seemed impossible, even for a tool created by government.
Attempts to curtail online freedoms have come off looking like a girdle on a Leviathan.
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I’ve written before about how, at the age of 25, I discovered that my father was a very senior member of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6.
I was visiting him in Washington, where he was serving in what had once been Kim Philby’s job - as the SIS liaison with the CIA. One reason that he chose to tell me on that visit, I think, was that during my stay at his house in Washington, some of his colleagues from London would also be visiting.
He needed to know that I would not say or do anything untoward. I was, after all, a long-haired journalist working for the Sydney rock station Double-Jay. Not exactly prime security material.
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