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New spy agencies would have vast powers

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New spy agencies would have vast powers
Gathering signatures for the petition outside the Interior Ministry. Photo: Simon Moser
12:20 CEST+02:00
Austria’s parliament is due to vote next month on whether to create ten new surveillance agencies with wide-ranging powers to spy on organisations and individuals.

The planned State Protection Act (Staatsschutzgesetz) would see the Federal Agency for State Protection and Counter Terrorism, currently a police department, upgraded to a surveillance agency and additional agencies would be created for each of Austria's nine provinces - giving local politicians their own personal intelligence service.

The draft law for this extension of domestic surveillance was written in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen earlier this year.

A petition against the new law gives details of some of the powers the ten agencies would be granted - including being allowed to spy on any citizen without needing a warrant from a judge. Agents could carry out surveillance to assess whether there is a risk of an "attack on the constitution", with only a "justified suspicion" of danger required.

The new state security services will have the power to oblige companies and government bodies to hand over all available data, including sensitive personal information protected by other laws, without needing a warrant signed by a judge.

The agencies would be allowed to store data on individuals for five years, but records of who accesses that information would be kept for only three years.

Opponents to the new law claim that whistleblowers and even those protesting against things like animal cruelty could be targeted using the new powers. The proposed law would also allow the use of paid informers, a controversial technique for gathering information. Amnesty International and the Austrian Working Group on Data Retention have both criticised the draft law.

The vote on the law is scheduled to take place between October 13th and 15th. If passed, it will come into force on July 1st 2016.

Opponents to the law are pressuring MPs to amend the legislation in order to establish safeguards and transparency, which would bring it back in line with the constitution.

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