Australia’s military cyber spy agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), could soon be receiving radical new espionage powers to monitor Australian citizens for the first time. If approved, the ASD may be able to secretly access the digital information of Australians including emails, health data, bank records, and text messages.
The Sunday Telegraph revealed a series of top secret letters exchanged between the heads of the Department of Home Affairs and Department of Defence discussing the plan to potentially allow government hackers to “proactively disrupt and covertly remove” onshore cyber threats by “hacking into our critical infrastructure.”
Currently, only ASIO and the Australian Federal Police have the powers to investigate Australians and they require a warrant to do so. Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said that the proposed expansion was in response to the increasing sophistication of transnational criminal activity.
The proposed changes could grant the ASD powers to compel Australian companies and government agencies to hand over data or security information when requested. The expansion has been justified on the basis that traditional law enforcement lacks the technical capacity to fully identify, detect and disrupt systemic transnational organised crime involving Australian citizens, and often relies on foreign law enforcement partners.
There is no need to panic just yet however, with Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop stating that there are no plans for the Government to expand the powers of the ASD as the laws already in place can target transnational crime while maintaining Australian’s privacy.
As always, watch this space.