Security expert warns about threat to privacy and civil liberties

Security expert warns about threat to privacy and civil liberties

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An information security expert said the expansion of police tracking and tracing capabilities announced last week might outlast the current coronavirus pandemic.

In the light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Government announced a new $91 million police package, including 150 additional police officers and $17.8 million to expand police tracking and tracing capabilities.

A total of $14.8 million in funding will go towards the purchase of 100 mobile intelligence cameras, also known as Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology.

These cameras were deployed to monitor and enforce movement restrictions around the state, such as the intrastate travel restrictions.

A Curtin University information security expert Dr Nik Thompson said the increase of surveillance has been discussed for several years around the world.

Recently, to facilitate the coronavirus quarantine enforcement, the Emergency Management Act 2005 was amended.

“This gives security agencies new powers to monitor and use unspecified means of electronic monitoring,” he said.

“So that could range from tracking our phones, vehicle licence plate tracking to even include things like ankle monitors and GPS trackers.

“Now, COVID-19 is certainly an emergency, but in practice there is often no such thing as temporary powers.

“These kinds of temporary measures have a habit of outlasting the emergency.”

Dr Thompson said the increase of surveillance will have implications for privacy and civil liberties, such as things like freedom of movement or association.

“Our society counts on a fair and robust discussion of the benefits and risks posed by new measures,” he said.

“This kind of dialogue can take months or years.

“But when faced with an emergency – legislation can get pushed through in a matter of days or hours with no consultation.

“Often leaving permanent measures in place that might not have been thought through adequately.”