by Caitlin Johnstone

The Australian government has been on the receiving end of more and more criticism for its covid response lately, not just domestically but from overseas.

There’s a lot to criticize, from soldiers patrolling state borders and policing the streets of Sydney, to people being arrested for merely posting about lockdown protests on social media, to police accessing QR tracing information and firing projectile weapons at lockdown protesters, to news broadcasters naming and shaming covid patients who violate isolation orders, to the frequently ineffective hotel quarantine system for travellers being replaced with purpose-built quarantine facilities and Orwellian surveillance apps. The states of both Victoria and New South Wales have begun moving toward reopening after the Delta variant proved zero-covid goals unattainable even amid strict lockdowns, but will do so by adding Australia to the growing list of nations that have implemented the dangerously authoritarian policy of vaccine passports.

And there are other aspects of this trend which have nothing to do with covid. One of the most controversial recent developments in Australia’s escalating government overreach (and potentially the most consequential in the long term) has been the hasty passing of a new law greatly expanding government surveillance powers which allows law enforcement to hack into people’s devices and collect, delete, or even add to and alter the data therein, as well as take control of their social media accounts, supposedly “in order to frustrate the commission of serious offences online.”

Critics tend to lump this sweeping surveillance state escalation in with authoritarian policies related to the pandemic, but the bill makes no mention of covid; its proponents cite its utility in fighting terrorism and child exploitation. Indeed this bill, which will certainly lead to myriad abuses, is just the latest in a continuing expansion of government surveillance powers in Australia that has been going on for years.

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