The Government Just Approved A Bunch Of New Cyber-Spying Powers For Police

The Government Just Approved A Bunch Of New Cyber-Spying Powers For Police
Image: Getty

Australia’s controversial and heavily scrutinised ‘hacking’ bill has been passed by the Senate after copping 60 amendments from the House of Representatives.

The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 gives the Australia Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) three controversial new powers when it comes to tackling online crime.

The first change is a data disruption power that reportedly aims to prevent “continuation of criminal activity by participants, and be the safest and most expedient option where those participants are in unknown locations or acting under anonymous or false identities”. Basically, it gives the AFP the power to modify, delete, copy or edit data as they see fit.

Naturally, this has faced backlash, with critics of the bill asserting that these powers could be used to target anyone from political activists to somebody who illegally downloaded music off the internet.

“No one’s safe under these new laws,” Victorian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe said of the proposal last year.

“It will affect grassroots communities across the country, it will affect children. It will affect anybody who downloads a movie illegally over the internet – they could go to jail for five years.”

The second power is a network activity warrant that allows the AFP and ACIC to monitor the web activity of devices or networks. Under this new power, the bodies can monitor any network or device that is used, or is likely to be used by the person or persons in question.

Lastly, the AFP and ACIC will now have the power to take control of an online account in order to gather further information for an investigation.

Thankfully, 23 of the 22 recommendations provided by the House of Representatives have been “wholly or substantially” implemented. These recommendations included tightening the criteria needed to issue these warrants, which means things like important information for journalism will be safer than originally planned.

However, many critics, including the Greens, still aren’t convinced the bill goes far enough to protect Australia’s most vulnerable internet users.

“The scope of the new powers is disproportionate compared to the threats of serious and organised cybercrime to which they are directed,” Thorpe said on Wednesday.

“There is a lack of evidence justifying the need for warrants of this nature, beyond those already available… no other country in the Five Eyes alliance has conferred powers on its law enforcement agency that this bill will.”

The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020is now awaiting Royal Assent.