Australian government has passed a sweeping surveillance bill, accused of adding provisions which “allows the police to hack your device, collect or delete your data, and take over your social media accounts; without sufficient safeguards to prevent abuse of these new powers.”
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The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 (Identify and Disrupt Bill) passed both houses of federal parliament on August 25, 2021.
The new legislation extends the power of law enforcement agencies to identify and disrupt suspected online criminal activity through the provision of three new warrants.
The new warrants provide the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission with the power to:
- Modify or delete the data of suspected offenders (data disruption warrants);
- Collect intelligence on criminal networks (network activity warrants), and
- Take control of a suspected offenders’ online account (account takeover warrants).
Anyone required to assist with government hacking is protected from civil liability. However, anyone who refuses to comply can face up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Australian companies, system administrators etc. must comply, and actively help the police to modify, add, copy, or delete the data of a person under investigation. Refusing to comply could have one end up in jail for up to ten years, according to the new bill.
Politicians justify the need for the bill by stating that it is intended to fight child exploitation (CSAM) and terrorism. However, the bill itself enables law enforcement to investigate any “serious Commonwealth offence” or “serious State offence that has a federal aspect.”
Angus Murray, Chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia’s Policy Team, the hacking powers pose a serious risk to our civil liberties.
“This is now a regime in Australia where we have conferred power on law enforcement agencies to hack Australians’, and potentially overseas persons’, computers and to take over accounts and modify and delete data on those accounts,” he told Information Age.
“Australia doesn’t have constitutionally enshrined rights to political speech and other human rights, but if we’re going to give law enforcement these powers, that should be checked and balanced against a human rights instrument at Federal level.”
Murray warns that there could come a point where this power is used against society. In theory, at least, the police could put something like child exploitation images onto your computer. While something like this is not the intention of the bill, there are also no significant safeguards against it.