The Australian government's first tranche of national security legislation reforms has passed the House of Representatives, increasing the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation's (ASIO) powers to seize and monitor computers and other electronic devices connected to the internet.
The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014, which passed on October 1, sees greater surveillance and search powers for ASIO, including access to computers, along with inspection of postal and delivery service articles, and will allow for limited immunity from prosecution for intelligence officers engaged in special operations.
Amendments to the legislation proposed by independent federal member and former intelligence whistleblower Andrew Wilkie to the national security legislation were defeated in the vote. Greens Senator Adam Bandt's proposed amendments to the legislation also failed to be included, due to fewer than five MPs voting for them.
The Bill, which passed with amendments in the Senate last week, expands ASIO's powers to gain access to an unlimited number of computers or networks with a single computer access warrant, disrupt target computers, and use third-party computers not targeted in order to access a target computer.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam had previously warned that the legislation would give ASIO the power to tap every device.
"These warrants will allow ASIO, or those working for ASIO, to modify these computers, to delete files, to install malware, to seek higher levels of user access, and to impersonate people — not only on a particular specified device, but, as I think we have well and truly established, on any device that it is connected to or is considered to be in a relationship with," Ludlam said last week.
The new laws also introduce "whistleblower" offences for unauthorised dealings with an intelligence-related record, including copying, transcription, removal, and retention, a maximum 10-year imprisonment for unauthorised communication and publication of intelligence-related information, and increased penalties for identifying intelligence officers.
The first tranche of the federal national security reforms passes in Parliament as ASIO has been told that it will receive an extra AU$200 million in funding over the next four years.
The funding is part of a AU$630 million counter-terrorism package recently announced by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Attorney-General George Brandis said ASIO's funding has been cut by more than AU$100 million over the past four years.
"This will better position ASIO to counter the increasing and evolving threats of terrorism and violent extremism," he told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.
The AU$196.8 million will be used to hire more analysts and better exchange information with foreign security and intelligence agencies.