Australia's Cyber Security Plan Includes Domestic Surveillance

Australia plans to expand the work of its national spy agency  and provide the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD)’s new  powers that would allow it to conduct domestic investigations for the first time. By rendering support to the Australian federal police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the cyber security and intelligence agency would for the first time be able to spy on Australians, although Dutton maintains ASD won’t be able to do so directly.

The Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton has confirmed that Australia’s $1.6 million cyber strategy will include capability for the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to help law enforcement agencies identify and disrupt serious criminal activity, including those inside Australia.

Dutton said law enforcement agencies would target terrorists, paedophiles and drug traffickers operating in the Dark Web, promising proposed new powers will apply “to those people and those people only”. Details of the new powers, which will require legislation, are not contained in the strategy, which says only that the government will “ensure law enforcement agencies have appropriate legislative powers and technical capabilities to deter, disrupt and defeat the criminal exploitation of anonymising technology and the dark web”.

ASD powers have been a source of controversy for the government, after the Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst’s home in June over a news report suggesting the home affairs department was seeking power for ASD to spy on Australians. Dutton had claimed the story was nonsense.

Dutton told reporters in the capital, Canberra, that the ASD has “a very unique set of powers” and is “the very best in the business” in operations such as stopping terrorist attacks. More recently ASD had disrupted scam attacks seeking passwords and other information targeting Australians financially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dutton said target servers and syndicates were mostly offshore but it was “appropriate” for ASD to help protect Australians. Law enforcement agencies would be able to “tap into” ASD’s capabilities but “the power only applies to … the Australian federal police and ACIC, not the ASD,” he said.

According to sources the  ASD will be prevented from directly collecting information but will be able to provide 'technical capability advice' to assist police execute computer access warrants to identify suspects and disrupt criminal activity.

The package includes $470m to expand Australia’s cybersecurity workforce with 500 new jobs created within the ASD, and $125m to double the AFP’s cyber enforcement capacity by 100 officers and expand the remit of the ACIC. Giving the ASD domestic powers would also allow it to target Australians with military-grade hacking capabilities, including malware exploits that leverage vulnerabilities in applications and operating systems.  

Australia's domestic spy agency says it has detected a rise in suspicious online activity during the coronavirus lockdown, which may have allowed extremists more opportunities to target young people.

Australian Siganls Direcorate:     ABC:       Yahoo:        Newsbreak:       Information Age:       Australian Finacial Review:

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