Known as the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 the bill was passed by both the federal House of Representatives and the Senate on Aug. 25. It is now awaiting Royal Assent, the final step before it becomes law.
The new legislation expands the power of law enforcement agencies, notably the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), in three distinct ways.
First, both agencies now have "data disruption power." This means the AFP and the ACIC can modify or delete the online data of suspected offenders. Supposedly, they can only do this if the purpose is to prevent the "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."
The second new power is called the "network activity warrant." This gives the AFP and the ACIC the authority to monitor the online accounts and activities of suspected offenders to collect more information for an investigation.
Third, the "account takeover warrant," grants these law enforcement agencies the power to take control of a suspected offenders' online accounts. (Related: These videos prove Australia is a tyrannical police state.)
Anyone enlisted by the AFP or the ACIC to assist them with government hacking is instantly protected from civil liability. Anybody who refuses to assist them or refuses to supply them with the information asked of them can face up to 10 years in prison.
"Under our changes, the AFP will have more tools to pursue organized crime gangs to keep drugs off our street and out of our community, and those who commit the most heinous crimes against children," claimed Member of Parliament and Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews.
The passage of the bill has stirred plenty of controversy. Many politicians and internet and privacy activists have spoken out in opposition to the new legislation.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner warned that the new warrant powers could impact the privacy of many people. This includes people without any suspected involvement in criminal activity.
"Given the privacy impact of these law enforcement powers on a broad range of individuals and networks, they should be accompanied by appropriate privacy safeguards," said the office back in March when the bill was first proposed.
Opposition Sen. Lidia Thorpe from the state of Victoria pointed out that the data disruption power of the AFP and the ACIC could be used to target anybody.
"No one is safe under these laws," said Thorpe. "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."
Bill Rowlings, CEO of rights group Civil Liberties Australia, called for the bill to be repealed.
"These are particularly draconian and particularly bad, so my message would be to throw these out, start again and get some proper consultation from the beginning," he said.
In response to criticisms of the bill, the House of Representatives passed amendments to protect journalists. But many internet activists feel this is not enough and the bill still does not provide adequate protection for vulnerable internet users.
"The scope of the new powers is disproportionate compared to the threats of serious and organized cybercrime to which they are directed," said Thorpe. "There is a lack of evidence justifying the need for warrants of this nature, beyond those already available."
Learn more about how governments all over the world are passing laws that legalize spying on citizens at Surveillance.news.