The Australian government has rushed a bill through parliament in just 24 hours, allowing police to hack the devices of anyone involved in an ongoing investigation. Through this new law, police will be able to modify or delete data, take control over social media accounts, and collect network activity to the extent they feel necessary to further their inquiries. All this can be done by creating one of three warrants, which critics have claimed are far too easy to gain.
They believe the new police powers will grant them the ability to fight back against online crime, while Senator Lidia Thorpe calls the bill a "cyber-enabled abuse of power".
“The bill does not identify or explain why these powers are necessary and our allies in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand do not grant law enforcement these rights.” Thorpe wrote in a blog post.
Titled ‘Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2021’ (which is already a rather ominous title), the legislation grants police the power to gain three new warrants:
- 1. Data disruption warrants: this enables police to modify or entirely delete a suspect’s data;
- 2. Network activity warrants: police can gain information stored in computers of a suspect, alongside any suspected criminal networks and users linked to the individual;
- 3. Account takeover warrants: the police may take control of a suspect’s social media and online accounts.
To obtain these warrants, it is not necessary for police to seek a judge’s authority. Instead, the police simply have to request them from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, a review body within the government that independently reviews decisions made by officials but only has jurisdiction when the law specifically states so. This will make it much easier to gain warrants for data collection or modification without justification to a judge.
The justification for the bill states that the authorities require these powers to effectively fight terrorism and child exploitation, much of which is conducted online and through the "dark web". By gaining access to devices of suspects, the government hopes to catch not just individuals, but entire networks of criminal activity.
The Guardian reports Labour, the opposition party, supported the bill, stating: “[T]he cyber-capabilities of criminal networks have expanded, and we know that they are using the dark web and anonymising technology to facilitate serious crime, which is creating significant challenges for law enforcement”. The party did however try to raise the bar for the types of crimes that could trigger a warrant, currently listed as any that are punishable by a maximum term of three years.
The bill will come into effect once it has received the Royal Assent, usually 5-10 working days after passing. It will be in place for five years, after which there will be a review.