New powers could give ASIO a warrant for the entire internet

New powers could give ASIO a warrant for the entire internet

Summary: The broad definition of a 'network' in new national security legislation could give Australia's top spy agency access to just about every computer on the internet, according to legal experts.


New national security legislation designed to make it easy for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to tap, access, and disrupt target and third-party computers and networks is so broad that it could in effect give ASIO access to every computer on the internet, according to legal experts.

Attorney-General George Brandis introduced legislation into the parliament last month that would expand the powers of ASIO, and its ability to access computers or computer networks under warrant as part of intelligence gathering, including the ability to access third party computers in order to gain access to a target computer under a warrant.

Two legal experts appearing before the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security investigating the legislation yesterday warned that the drafting of the legislation could potentially mean that almost any computer in the world could be accessed.

"I guess our major concern is more the situation where, say, computer networks could extend to any computer located on university premises where a person is studying, or all the computers where a person otherwise might work. But our main concern is that that idea of a network is not defined by even such a physical restriction as that," University of New South Wales law lecturer Keiran Hardy said.

"Some requirements like having reasonable grounds to believe that the person had access to other computers, or a kind of last-resort provision that other means of obtaining that intelligence, aside from accessing multiple computers, might in some way sensibly limit that, whereas there is nothing in the legislation so far to even explain what the potential limits of that definition might be."

UNSW's Professor George Williams said it could extend as far as the entire internet.

"I suppose the short answer is: the internet is a computer network, and it is commonly understood as such, and that is why there is some understandable confusion that attaches to these words, because clearly it ought not to be directed at that. But, if that is the case, you would want to see text in the legislation making that clear," he said.

At UNSW alone, Williams said, a computer network would cover 55,000 people, and slammed the drafting of the legislation for not adopting the definition of a network that was recommended by the committee in 2012, that simply expanded the definition under a warrant to include multple computers operating in a network.

Electronic Frontiers Australia's executive officer Jon Lawrence also indicated that the proposal could cover the entire internet.

"It is quite arguable that the definition could be applied to the entire internet, given the way the legislation is currently worded. That will need some additional work to tie that down to what we believe the department is actually proposing."

EFA concerns about a right to privacy were dismissed by Liberal MP Philip Ruddock.

"These issues that we are dealing with, they are giving organisations that are about identifying terrorist bodies reasonable powers to be able to protect people's right to life in advance. We have always operated on the basis that we wait until something happens and then try to prosecute an offence and hope that, if we prosecute somebody successfully, it may deter others. That has always been the traditional way," he said.

"We are now looking at how you find out what people are thinking about even before they do it, and it is with a view to trying to protect people's right to life. When you are developing a proportionality test, I want to know why privacy is so much more important, proportionally, than somebody's right to life."

At a hearing on Friday last week, ASIO head David Irvine and the Attorney-General's Department First Assistant Secretary for National Security Law and Police, Jamie Lowe defended the broadening of the definition of networks and computers under the legislation as necessary for ASIO's work.

"It is more efficient, and better reflects the way computers are now used, for ASIO computer-access warrants to cover computer networks and to be able to specify the computers, the systems or the networks to which access is authorised by reference to a specified person or premises rather than a reference to the specific computer," Lowe said.

ASIO could not access the content on third party computers, and Lowe said that the impact on third party computers accessed to reach target computers would be limited.

"I do not think I would link it to observable, but material and immaterial have a normal usage in everyday language. Whether it is observable or not may be an indication, but I would not link it specifically to that," she said.

Topics: Privacy, Government, Government AU, Security, Australia


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • You're kidding me, right?

    "We are now looking at how you find out what people are thinking about even before they do it."

    Seriously... just... seriously???
    • Seriously

      So the prosecution of 'thought crimes' is now a thing. How do they intend to prosecute someone for something they haven't actually done? Or is the 'intent' of performing an act now the same as committing that act? How do you prove intent? What happens to the 'presumption of innocence'?

      Or do they realise they will never be able to prosecute suspects under this new legislation, so instead they 'detain' such people indefinitely under terrorism exclusions?

      So what happens when a researcher writing a paper on the ease of gathering the means with which to make a bomb is snared because ASIO says he intended to make a bomb and blow people up? What happens to the author researching a novel about religious extremists is caught up by ASIO and disappeared without trial or due process of law for ten years? According to ASIO his intent was clear - according to the author only the intent of the character in his novel was clear, but no jury will ever hear that argument because you can't convict people based on possible intentions, so ASIO won't be taking them to trial.

      The concept of Thought Crimes has always been extremely contentious because it is a slippery slope of abuse and unverifiable false positives, for highly questionable outcomes. If these powers merely led to greater investigatory tools and techniques that flagged potential terrorist targets and allowed them to be surveilled and proactively prohibited from executing an attack once the indisputable facts of that attack had been established, then I'd be far less concerned. But this would also be a different argument. What we have here is a statement showing the intention and desire to arrest people before they've actually done anything. And that's a proposition I will oppose unequivocally.
    • Thought Police

      This really is straight out of 1984.
    • cab interviews about war on terror.

      why do you think they conduct so many interviews about war on terror in Australian cabs? Hoping they will find a new potential evil cab driver(lol) which they never do.Same goes for all other jobs where spooks do role plays. Contractors have made millions because of these works.
  • Easy the operative

    Let's face it folks, if it isn't easy, that's the end of them.

    "Investigate, Mr Smithers!"
    "Surely you jest, we just raid their lawyers. We have absolution you see ... from Cardinal Pell".

    "All is forgiven my son" said he "just 5 hail Mary's and a fiver in the collection there's a good liberal". "And send that boy in, on your way out".
  • Back to Pen & Paper for Terrorists?

    Given these powers, if I were planning some nefarious activity, I would work offline visiting actual libraries in person, photocopying sections of texts, but never checking out a book. The company I work for manufactures explosives, will we be in for regular ASIO raids?
  • Who really are the "terrorists"?

    Roll on private use of open source encryption just to protect your shopping list!
  • Warrants for more work place bullying for targets?

    The real activist in Australia are not many. Mostly are random innocent targets who get picked up by them because they are smart. I cannot deny the fact mostly these spooks go around bullying,harassing,role playing mind games with these targets. What do the government do with all these power? Who are targets?
    Governments : role players.
    Targets : Muslims(mostly),activists, you get in way of elite class.

    Role players can be any of agents pretending to be a fellow citizen like German Stasis used to do. What do they do?
    1. Your bf or gf.
    2. Gays/Lesbians to check your level of religion(Muslims usually).
    3. Going around pretending to be your coworkers asking about war on terror.
    4. Pretending to your friends harassing you about what you think about war on terror and ISIS and all that non-sense. If you dare to mention to these freaks that Alqaeda, ISIS are creation and are funded by USA and allies, they get real mad at you for pointing out facts(Ask the Aussie Muslims lols).
    5. Damaging property of targets when they are not home.
    6. Breaking in to target home.
    7. Making you lose jobs and harassing you at job repeating mind torture personal questions.
    8. Starting fights to cause family divorces and loss of child custody.
    9. Ultimate target is defined as torturing a targets to make them commit suicides.
    10. If any of the targets dare to walk to press or talk, they are usually killed in random car accidents.

    Yes the above happen on Australian soil on daily basis.The job with most such incidents of work place bullying by spooks is cabs where these spooks harass the Muslim cab drivers across Australia or jobs with most interaction with people.The above can literally be understood as torture but what can anyone do or say?Similarly wikileaks or those who associate with them face same issues.

    Now the above program with increased funding is being directed towards activists like wikileaks or anyone who works with wikileaks. If anyone in press dares to look into role playing and mind torture games, they know what will happen to them?car accident? suicide?

    So its already worst but soon targets will be less Muslims and more activists then those who close eyes now saying “Making Aussie Muslims commit suicides is awesome” will bloody know why human rights are important.

    The golden care of money
    “first you create a threat(ISIS,AQ)> get government to pay contractors(role players,security companies)>the richer gets richer)”

    Thank you Edward Snowden.