Legislation handing “extraordinary” new hacking powers to Australian authorities has sailed through Parliament with support from the Opposition, despite the government not implementing some of the recommendations from the national security committee.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) will now be able to access the computers and networks of those suspected of conducting criminal activity online, and even take over their online accounts covertly, under the Identify and Disrupt bill, which was passed by the Senate on Wednesday.
Three new warrants will be introduced under the legislation, allowing authorities to “disrupt” the data of suspected offenders, access their devices and networks to identify them and take over their accounts.
“Under our changes the AFP will have more tools to pursue organised crime gangs to keep drugs off our street and out of our community, and those who commit the most heinous crimes against children,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said.
The government moved 60 amendments to the legislation in the lower house in response to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s (PJCIS) report from earlier this month.
The amendments included enhanced oversight powers, reviews in several years time by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and the PJCIS, the sunsetting of the powers after five years, and strengthened protections for third parties and journalists.
The amendments meet 23 of the PJCIS’s 33 recommendations, while the government has agreed to implement several others through a broader reform of intelligence surveillance powers.
But it rejected the national security committee’s call for a higher threshold in the issuing of warrants in terms of the crimes they can be applied for, and for warrants to only be approved by a judge, rather than a member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Several Labor members raised concerns with this and echoed others raised by members of the civil and digital rights sector, as did government members of the PJCIS, but all eventually voted to pass the legislation.
The bill was rejected by the Greens, which said the legislation is another step on the “road to a surveillance state”.
The PJCIS had recommended that the type of crimes the warrants could be issued for be narrowed to those relating to offences against the security of the Commonwealth, offences against humanity, serious drug, weapons and criminal association offences, and money laundering and cybercrime.
Currently, the broad new powers can be granted to combat a swathe of crimes, far further than the terrorism and other offences the government has pointed to in order to justify the need for the legislation.