Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton have declared the launch of a campaign to crack down on online pedophile networks, news that have been received with mixed feelings.
This new development appears to be a justification for the planned formalization of electronic eavesdropping, granting powers to the Australian cyber warfare agency to conduct surveillance on people living in the country.
In perspective, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) is part of an international surveillance effort led by the US National Security Agency (NSA). In addition, it is common knowledge that ASD works hand-in-hand with the Australian military through offensive hacking expeditions to target enemy countries like Iran.
The ASD Proposal
In support of the ASD proposal, the PM remarked about the Australian crime and intelligence agencies’ interest to “protect children” from the large community of perverts that rule the dark web. In this light, he said the agencies will be served with all the tools that they may need to work effectively.
At the moment, the ASD operates within limited powers – they are legally prevented from a host of various forms of domestic surveillance, although the previous dossiers exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden intimate otherwise.
According to documents shared by WikiLeaks, the ASD and its international partners were shown to eavesdrop on the communication channels of millions of people worldwide – including the sharing of citizens’ personal data among themselves.
It is important to note that for the longest time, the core of ASD’s mandate is critically controlled by ministerial approval.
While the ASD has been providing information to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian spy agency, The Coalition is pursuing the initiative to cut down on the legal restrictions that have long held the organization in check.
It can be inferred that the ASD proposal will go a long way to accord it powers necessary to snoop and hack against people while utilizing all forms of tools – including malwares that plug into operating system and application vulnerabilities.
A Threat to Free Speech?
Hitherto, the government seems to have anticipated a widespread opposition to the ASD proposal that seeks to enable the mass surveillance on Australian soil. To counter this, they have rebranded the proposal as the ultimate enabler of an anti-dark web campaign.
Still, this comes as no surprise considering the fact that the government has made previous proposals veiled under similar circumstances. A classic example is the encryption-cracking powers and metadata-retention legislations that force telecomm companies to keep archives of all customer calls and internet searches.
Well, critically speaking, the ASD proposal doesn’t promise to offer a new solution. Remember that the AFP has been active at countering the menace of darknet-supported child abuse through an international task force – which involves Interpol, Europol and other formidable law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, AFP operates a cybercrime investigation arm that is charged with combatting internet-related crimes.
Moreover, it is not a secret that the AFP is well endowed with resources that would be effective in the fight against dark web-related crime. This is a solid reality considering that the agency has the power to access a broad category of personal and financial data when needed. This agency has tripled in size since the new millennium, with successive regimes investing an insane amount of monies to fund its budgets.
Striking the Balance
To counter public outcry, the government and the AFP have released a strategy to allow law enforcement agencies to issue members of the press with “Notices to Produce” dossiers related to secret sources – seemingly as a way to eliminate a necessity for police raids.
Nonetheless, this move was met with considerable resistance, with journalists, activists and media moguls calling out the scheme to augment police powers. This sentiment is reflected on the notion that the new strategy fails to abolish police raids absolutely, thereby holding water in scenarios of noncooperation by law enforcement targets.
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