The Australian government has recently ratified a legislation that will grant the country’s key law enforcement agencies the power to directly confront dark web crime.
The new law, which has gotten civil liberties groups talking, has been described as “intrusive” by a number of societies opposed to particular provisions of the legislation.
A host of legal entities have argued that the Morrison administration has deliberately chosen to ignore some of the recommendations provided by Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS).
The new Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identity and Disrupt) Bill 2020 has been advertised by the government as an introduction of fresh ideas meant to bolster the anti-dark web capabilities of the State.
The bill has since been defended passionately by the country’s Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews who has asserted the relevance of the new law in helping the authorities adapt to the ever-changing cybercriminal threat environment.
Essentially, the new legislation will supply unprecedented powers to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commissioner (ACIC) in enabling them to combat cybercrime through three main approaches.
First, Australian law enforcement will be able to use network activity warrants in collecting intelligence concerning the most notorious criminal organizations. This power will extend to the dark web in context of criminals that hide behind online anonymity tools.
Second, the authorities will now be allowed to engage data disruption warrants in disrupting criminal activities facilitated by online platforms. The same legal provision will provide an opportunity for law enforcement agents to modify the data belonging to suspects of criminal activities with the aim of thwarting their plans.
In addition, the new bill will allow the law enforcement takeover of online accounts for the purpose of harvesting incriminating evidence. This provision will be coupled with other investigatory capabilities meant to overshadow past law enforcement mandates.
The Australian Civil Society Is Not Amused
In response to the new Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identity and Disrupt) Bill 2020, a submission made to the PJCIS by the Law Council of Australia stated the importance of having critical safeguards in ensuring that the new powers are not misused by the authorities.
Although the council acknowledged the sensitive nature of cases involving terrorism and child sex abuse, the peak body representing the legal profession in Australia called for “scrutiny” in light of the proposed powers.
The association pegged their submission on the expansive nature of the new mandates that have significantly extended beyond the investigative focus of Australia’s law enforcement agencies. The Law Council voiced its concern over the potential negative impacts on non-suspects who are legitimately using networks believed to be a staple of criminals.
While commenting on the latest development, Kieran Pender (a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Center) voiced his concern about the “overboard surveillance powers” that will affect the privacy of all Australian residents – an aspect that may predispose journalists and whistleblowers to potential danger.
Instead, the lawyer recommended the narrowing of the intrusive powers to ensure that the bill serves its true law enforcement purpose without infringing on the liberties of innocent people.
Pender faulted the government for rushing through the process of passing the law in parliament without considering a host of expert recommendations.