The Government Wants Australian Spies To Have More Cybersecurity Powers

The Government Wants Australian Spies To Have More Cybersecurity Powers
Image: Alex Ellinghausen

The government is renewing calls to increase powers for Australia’s spy agencies in order for them to hunt down paedophile rings among other threats within the country, the ABC has revealed.

The ABC reported the government was readying a proposal in order to increase the cybersecurity reach of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). This would allow the agency (which is in charge of intercepting, reading and analysing foreign signals and communications) to extend its powers by including domestic communications under its purvey, too.

The politician behind the push is Peter Dutton, the Minister for Home Affairs. He believes, as told to the ABC, Australia’s spy agencies are being prevented from chasing down paedophile rings and national security threats if the trail leads to Australia.

“At the moment, if there is a server in Sydney that has images of a five- or six-month-old child being sexually exploited and tortured, then that may not be discoverable, particularly if it’s encrypted and protected to a point where the AFP or the ACIC can’t gain access to that server,” Minister Dutton told the ABC.

“It can be a different picture if that server is offshore, so there is an anomaly that exists at the moment.”

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Legislation restricts the ASD from expanding its search into Australian criminals as included in the Intelligence Services Act 2001. Right now, the legislation allows the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to request assistance from the ASD with warrants and ministerial approvals.

“I want to make sure that if they [the police] can get a warrant from a court and go to a paedophile’s house and search that house for material… I want to make sure we have the same power to do that in the online life of that paedophile. Nothing more, nothing less,” Minister Dutton said.

Dutton first raised the issue in 2018 suggesting the ASD could be given three new roles to play in the country’s domestic cybersecurity space. The first was to allow it to shut down systems set up by organised crime, paedophile rings and terrorism cells. Additionally, he proposed it could test the security of Australian companies as well as coerce businesses to improve their cybersecurity.

In June 2019, the home and office of News Corp’s national political editor Annika Smethurst were raided after she released a report the previous year alleging Home Affairs was looking to introduce greater domestic spying laws after an email leak.

The super portfolio that is the Department of Home Affairs was created on 20 December 2017 with Peter Dutton announced as its minister. Many of Australia’s law enforcement and spy agencies all fall into the department with AFP, ASIO, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) all under Minister Dutton’s responsibility.

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[Via ABC]