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Spy laws: Govt wants data

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Attorney-General George Brandis has introduced legislation to Parliament to expand the ability of spies to hack computer networks, allow more flexible warrants and improve co-operation between different intelligence agencies.

The changes also set out tougher jail terms for people who leak information or make unauthorised copies of secret documents.

Senator Brandis said the current legislation covering Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is “in some respects obsolete”.

“It pre-dates the internet age,” he said.

Senator Brandis said the new legislation brings the intelligence agencies’ powers up-to-date with technological changes and will allow:

• One warrant to cover a network of computers and electronic devices, not just individual computers

• The computers of third parties (those who are not suspects) to be used in order to access other targeted computers

• Intelligence officers to disrupt the operations of a computer in some circumstances

The head of the domestic spy agency ASIO has said there are “significant and continuing threats” and the changes will help prevent a terrorist attack on Australian soil.

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 Read the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill in full

ASIO director-general David Irvine said the changes will make security operations a lot more efficient.

“If you are conducting a particular investigation which involves a whole series of intrusive surveillance techniques including beaconing, tracking, listening device and so on, at the moment we have to get a single warrant for each of those particular activities,” he said.

Changes to allow spies to closely monitor suspected jihadists

The legislation also allows ASIO to work more closely with its foreign-based counterpart, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS).

Under the changes it will be possible for ASIS to collect information on Australian citizens overseas on behalf of ASIO and spy on Australians without ministerial approval.

There will also be greater protection from civil and criminal liability for ASIO employees involved in special intelligence operations.

“But in the current operating environment, and you will think Syria and Iraq particularly, there is need to know what Australians are up to, particularly if they’re going to come home and commit terrorist acts here in Australia.”

Mr Irvine said the changes keep pace with the changing nature of threats posed to Australia.

“In the past, we have rarely needed to collect intelligence on Australians overseas,” he said.

“But in the current operating environment, and you will think Syria and Iraq particularly, there is need to know what Australians are up to, particularly if they’re going to come home and commit terrorist acts here in Australia.”

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ASIO director-general David Irvine and Attorney-General George Brandis spruik the beefed-up spy laws. Photo: AAP

There are about 60 Australians in Syria or Iraq working with terrorist organisations and another 150 people the security agencies believe may leave Australia to join the fighting.

Mr Irvine said Australia faces “significant and continuing threats of politically-motivated violence, particularly of terrorism”.

“There’s a number of people, admittedly a very small number of people, but nevertheless a significant number of people, who subscribe to the theories of violent jihad and who could at any time be prompted to carry out an attack, in Australia or overseas,” he said.

“It’s been very difficult to collect information on them.

“Our job is to try to predict and prevent that, and part of this bill is to improve the tools that we have to do that.”

Brandis foreshadows telephone, internet data retention

The Federal Government is also cracking down on whistleblowers working in security agencies.

Officers who leak secret information will face a maximum jail term of 10 years, up from the current limit of two years.

The Government is also making it a crime to copy or remove secret information, even if it is not passed on to anyone else. Anyone convicted in those circumstances could be jailed for up to three years.

The new crime and increased penalties will be expanded to apply to employees of the Defence Intelligence Organisation and the Office of National Assessments, as well as the domestic and foreign-based spy agencies.

newdaily_150614_cybercrimeSenator Brandis said it “fills a gap in the legislation” but denied it has been driven by any particular incident.

He said these would be the first tranche of changes to national security legislation with more expected to follow later in the year.

They could include more controversial measures, such as compelling phone companies and internet service providers to keep data for up to two years.

“The question of data retention is under active consideration by the Government,” Senator Brandis said.

He pointed to recent data retention laws in the United Kingdom and the European Union.

“This is very much the way in which Western nations are going” he said.

“It’s not a decision which Australia has yet made.”

Greens call for answers over data retention plan

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Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says the Government needs to say if it is going to force phone and internet companies to keep their customers’ data records for two years.

“What we have here is a proposal for indiscriminate surveillance of the whole population,” he said.

Mandatory data retention was considered by a parliamentary committee in 2012, raising the ire of the Greens and Liberal MP Steve Ciobo.

“I think that this proposal is akin to tactics that we would have seen utilised by the Gestapo,” Mr Ciobo said at the time.

However, Mr Irvine said data retention is “absolutely crucial” to the work of intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

“Almost every ASIO investigation and a very large number of law enforcement investigations depend at least in the first instance on access to retained data,” he said.

The changes to security laws have prompted the Government to back down on its plans to scrap the independent watchdog on national security measures.

The position of Independent National Security Legislation Monitor was cut in the budget to save money, but that decision has now been reversed.

However, the position is currently vacant as the term of the most recent monitor, Bret Walker SC, has expired.

A joint national security parliamentary committee will examine the legislation before the changes are implemented.

However, independent MP and former intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie says the Government needs to allow more time for them to be reviewed.

“It is self-evident that two months is simply not enough time,” he said.

“It is not enough time for the committee to get organised and for the community to prepare the sorts of submissions that the community would want to submit.”

– ABC

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