Every website you visit, every call you make: Govt's new law

A NEW federal agency is poised to launch a sweeping assault on Australians' privacy, with regulators granted wideranging powers to track the physical movements of every citizen over the age of 13 years, record details of phone calls and text messages, and maintain an extensive facial recognition database.

The controversial proposal would also allow authorities to track every website Australians visited, every event they physically attended and, in some cases, would give regulators access to "private" messages dating as far back as 2004.

Privacy advocates slammed the haphazard approach to Australians' personal details yesterday, warning they could be used to derail elections and unfairly influence at-risk consumers, but authorities argued citizens would consent to making their information public as long as the agency pledged to use it "with good intentions".

Head of the proposed Federal Agency for Compliant Exposure, Amber Cruz-Gerkk, said the scheme was a bold move and one that would paint an unprecedented picture of Australian life and behaviour.

She pledged the broad scope of information gathered by the Agency would not be handed to law enforcement officials, even if it became aware that serious crimes were actively being discussed, planned, or carried out.

Businesses, university researchers, lobbyists, and political parties would be able to access significant parts of the information to target niche groups, however, from swing voters to cheating spouses, and would be able to pay regulators to have their message amplified.

Despite its potential impact, Ms Cruz-Gerkk said she was confident most Australians would embrace the scheme.

"We wouldn't be able to paint such a detailed picture of Australians' lives without the participation of millions," she said, "so it's heartening to see so many people get behind early trials of this scheme and expose so much of their lives.

"We've been surprised by just how much sensitive, personal information has been handed over - they just trust us - and see no reason we shouldn't expand our reach in future."

Ms Cruz-Gerkk said the Agency was already developing artificially intelligent in-home recording devices for launch later this year that would not only record voices but recognise faces in videos, and log Australians' lounge and bedroom activities.

Australia’s every move will be watched under the new proposal.
Australia’s every move will be watched under the new proposal.

As a trade-off, users would be able to make voice and video calls with the device, and its price could be subsidised by large-scale, political advertising, "imitation" news articles, and age-appropriate advertisements.

Privacy advocate Bleur DeLynes said the Agency's powers were unnecessarily invasive, expansive, had the potential to harm impressionable teenagers, unfairly influence elections, and the organisation did not adequately spell out its intentions or scope to participants.

But Mr DeLynes admitted Australians' tendency to blindly "click OK" on terms, conditions, and privacy warnings could see the Agency's work widely accepted.

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