The rise of authoritarian politics is something I have often discussed on this blog. However, my considerations have this far mainly focused on the Visegrád states Hungary, Poland and Slovakia (for instance here, here and here). Another country that is no stranger to such ideas is my home state of Austria though. There, the conservative ÖVP party just tried to push through a new “security package” and it couldn’t be more authoritarian. Luckily, this did not get any support from the other parties just yet. Considering Austria’s election in October though, this deserves a closer look.
Security equals full surveillance for the ÖVP
To be fair, the Austrian grand coalition has been working on a new security package for months. And the reasons are somewhat understandable. The government tried to find a way to access WhatsApp and Skype data like they can with calls and text messages. You know, through judicial resolution. However, since the fall of the coalition and the announcement of early elections, things have changed dramatically.
This week, the conservative ÖVP – one half of that coalition – in the person of minister for the interior Wolfgang Sobotka proposed a new law. And as it turned out, this proposal goes far beyond what the coalition partner SPÖ ever agreed to. Hell, even the far-right refused to support it!
To start with, the ÖVP somehow forgot to mention any need for a judicial resolution before tapping into personal data. Instead, the police should simply be able to monitor people’s communication on suspicion. Yeah, that sounds very reassuring. But even worse: all this would not end at the police. Anyone responsible for providing security in a private or semi-private setting could get access to such data. That includes janitors in case of neighbourly disputes, associations of all sorts and even gardeners in public parks! All these people could simply request access to private information if they can provide a “reasonable suspicion”. And if they abuse this, they would get fined a mere 500€. I mean, are you fucking kidding me?
The ÖVP’s deeply authoritarian core
But the ridiculous ideas put forward by the Sobotka don’t even end there. He also wants to introduce a state-backed malware to infiltrate computers. The ÖVP wants to also be able to monitor every person a suspected criminal could get in touch with, which is, well… anyone, and they want to force private companies to store camera footage for two weeks and hand it over if necessary. This practice has been deemed illegal by the European Court of Justice but that doesn’t seem to matter for the ÖVP.
All this shows one thing very clearly: this party has not progressed a bit over the last 70 years. No matter how hard their new leader Sebastian Kurz now tries to rebrand the party as a fresh movement – there is a hard-authoritarian core at play here. Large parts of the ÖVP simply don’t trust civil liberties. They are not comfortable with privacy and they would rather know exactly what is going on in every corner of the country.
Until now, opposition from all other parties, including the far right, crossed such authoritarian plans. But I’m afraid we might see more of that if the election in October returns an ÖVP-FPÖ right-wing coalition. That would put Austria firmly in the camp of a Viktor Orbán or Jarosław Kaczyński. Hardly a company I want to be associated with.