Higher education unions meeting in Melbourne this month expressed concern over anti-terrorism laws in the UK, Canada, Australia and the US
Canada defines terrorism more broadly than any other country in the world, James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, told the conference in Melbourne.
"Where it is defined as an act or unlawful acts for purposes of influencing or intimidating governments and the civilian population, we add 'motivated for political and ideological purposes'."
The tradition in criminal law was that motive had no place; the act or behaviour was judged, not the motive, Dr Turk said. But a new Canadian anti-terror law has changed all that and this was a matter of great concern, he said.
Dr Turk said academic freedom was always at risk, just as those who wanted to advance security over liberty were always at work.
The bombings in New York, Madrid and London allowed some governments to create a climate of fear, of laws, of regulations, practices and procedures of oppression, Dr Turk said. "A fearful climate leads to a repression of civil liberties."
He said the atmosphere that governments in the US, Australia, Britain and elsewhere were helping generate reminded him of the McCarthy era. That, too, was a time when academics were called on to report any suspicions of students or colleagues.
As in Australia and Britain, he said, the new legislation gave a minister of the Crown enormous power with no checks or balances. But even more worrying was the growing extent of technological interference in people's lives, Dr Turk said.