AUSTRALIA'S intelligence watchdog has declared she is on the lookout for whether a proposal to embark upon one of the biggest expansions of security powers in a decade will lead to an imbalance between state power and private rights.
In a speech yesterday at the University of Canberra, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Vivienne Thom, said she would be advising a parliamentary committee tasked with examining the proposals.
The parliamentary committee, chaired by Labor MP Anthony Byrne, was this month asked to examine more than 40 proposed enhancements to national security legislation, which, if granted, would give Australia's intelligence and security agencies significant new powers.
The most controversial of those powers would force telcos to store the internet data of all Australians for up to two years, but other proposals included giving the foreign intelligence agency ASIS increased powers to monitor Australians, and to train others in the use of guns.
Dr Thom said she would be providing a submission to the committee focusing on whether the proposals contained oversight mechanisms, risks to legality and propriety and whether they protected human rights.
''I have a particular interest in whether proposed policies place sufficient weight on the privacy of individuals and whether [they] reflect the concept of proportionality - that is, the means for obtaining the information must be proportionate to the gravity of the threat posed and the likelihood of its occurrence.''
That may be read by some as a specific reference to the data retention policy, given the already strong public concerns expressed about its reach and ability to infringe upon the right to privacy of average citizens.
Dr Thom also referenced a story published on Thursday by smh.com.au, which revealed the hacker network Anonymous had breached security at one of Australia's biggest internet service providers, AAPT, and stolen large amounts of user data.
Anonymous later stated the hack had been undertaken to show how vulnerable such user data was and illustrate the risks of forcing telcos to store more.
''It is clear that in some quarters, there is suspicion about the activities of the intelligence and security agencies and scepticism that the powers they have already are used appropriately [as well as] concern about any changes to the current regime,'' Dr Thom said.
The parliamentary committee is taking public submissions and once that is finished, in mid August, it will start a series of public and secret hearings in order to examine the proposals.
Last week, the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, told the Herald she believed ''the case had not yet been made'' for many of the more contentious proposals.
However, two days later, the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, expressed some support for mandatory data retention during a television interview. A spokesman later denied Mr Conroy was offering support.