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New criminal authority surveillance Bill will allow AFP greater powers in combating cybercrime

by Angel Jemmett •
Free resource

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) will soon be allowed greater surveillance powers thanks to several new amendments to outdated telecommunication access Acts.

The federal government passed the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2021 on 3 September. Its purpose is to broaden the existing powers of the AFP and ACIC to target cybercriminals, particularly those participating in child exploitation, terrorism and dark-web criminal syndicates.

The Bill makes amendments to the Surveillance Devices Act 2004, the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, and the Crimes Act 1914. It introduces data disruption warrants which will allow the AFP and ACIC to modify, add, copy, or delete data in order to disrupt serious online offences.

The amendments also introduced network activity warrants to enable the AFP and ACIC to collect intelligence on criminal suspects by allowing access to networks and devices hosting the alleged criminal activity.

Account takeover warrants were also introduced to the Bill, enabling the AFP and ACIC to supersede suspect’s online accounts to gather evidence.

One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts delivered a speech to Parliament expressing concerns that the amended legislation may grant the AFP unfair powers over innocent parties due to ‘weak’ drafting and loopholes.

Roberts fears that the measures taken within the Bill do not afford innocent parties enough protection from being mistakenly targeted by police and political powers.

“If those planning freedom rallies, for instance, are classified by the Federal Police as terrorists, then the government will have the ability to upload tracking tags that will identify people whose only crime is exercising their right to freedom of protest.”

Various recommendations have been made for the Bill to be withdrawn by the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty Victoria, Electronic Frontiers Australia and the Australian Privacy Foundation. The Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills also expressed concerns that the Bill will unduly trespass on personal rights and liberties.

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