GEORGE Orwell's nightmarish vision of a government looking over your shoulder in the sanctity of your own home could start to become reality after both sides of federal politics this week voted for new online monitoring laws without safeguards or privacy amendments.
The new laws passed this week - which set out specifically to target cyber criminals - allow authorities to collect and monitor Australians' internet records, including their web-browsing history, social media activity and emails, without the long-tested legal controls applied to phone taps or mail interception.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the new law made it easier for government agencies to record and share Australian's private data with foreign governments.
"With an inquiry into government surveillance only just getting under way, this move is provocative, pre-emptive and typifies everything that is wrong with the way the balance is tilting against the rights of the individual," he said.
Associate Professor Robert Fisher, Dean of Law at Central Queensland University, said previously police had had to get a judicial officer to approve a phone tap or mail interception.
"(This) meant the government agency was subject to an element of scrutiny," Prof Fisher said.
"The judicial officer had to be convinced a crime was likely to be committed that would attract at least a three-year prison sentence."
Solicitor and CQUniversity law lecturer Wayne Jones said the Law Council of Australia had also expressed concerns about the prospect of supplying information to countries with the death penalty.
"Lawyers are apprehensively waiting to see how this power is used and how often," Prof Jones said.
"We are concerned universities would be targeted because of the large amount of overseas students.
"We don't want our students harassed."
Senator Ludlam said the amendments proposed by his party would have established a criminal threshold for data collection.
"We wanted safeguards against the death penalty and to improve the oversight role of the Commonwealth Ombudsman," he said.
The new laws mean information can be kept at least until police get a warrant.
A parliamentary inquiry will be held later into taking the measures further by allowing the records of Australians' online activity to be retained for up to two years.
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