Proposed state legislation that would allow NSW Police to quietly
hack into suspects' computers remotely reflected similar moves in other
jurisdictions, a notable Australian cybercrime analyst said Thursday.
The NSW Parliament on Wednesday was debating an amendment to the Law
Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002, which proposes to allow
NSW Police, with a special warrant issued by a Supreme Court judge, to remotely
access a suspect's computers for between seven to 28 days, depending on the
seriousness of the alleged offence.
Australian Federal Police officer, Nigel Phair, who spoke to
ZDNet Asia's sister site ZDNet Australia as a cybercrime analyst and author, said it was about time
state governments introduced police hacking powers. Phair said the Bill would
merely bring NSW legislation and police search powers up-to-date with trends in
"From a Commonwealth perspective, it has had the Cybercrime Act since
2001. It's good that it gets acknowledged by the NSW Parliament. These laws keep
on needing to be refreshed as technology and crime changes," Phair said
Phair speculated on whether the Bill could have an impact on other states'
approach to the issue of covert search powers. "Will the Commonwealth take them
up and will other states mirror them?" he asked.
Queensland had in fact recently introduced legislation along some similar
lines, giving the state's police the ability to apply for a warrant to intercept
telecommunications. The new powers were introduced this February under the
Telecommunications Interception Bill 2009.
"Queensland law enforcement agencies do not have direct access to
telecommunications interception powers. It is desirable that they should have
such access," the Bill's explanatory notes state.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, at the Bill's introduction on Feb. 10,
acknowledged the "intrusiveness" of the Bill but highlighted that it would
appoint a Public Interest Monitor (PIM) in Queensland to test the validity of
such warrant applications.
Queensland-based criminal defence lawyer Jim Coburn, a partner at law firm
Ryan and Bosscher Lawyers, has said the Bill gave Queensland Police "sweeping"
powers, which would allow them to snoop everything from private emails to
"The new legislation in effect means police can seek the power to tap
everything — every modern form of communication that passes over a
telecommunications system," he wrote
in a recent opinion piece.
As for the Public Interest Monitor, Coburn said it was a farce. "The reality
is that the Public Interest Monitor role is essentially nothing more than a
public relations gesture. The legislation does not give the PIM any real powers
to prevent police launching fishing expeditions in the hope of catching someone
on a crime," he wrote.
Victoria meanwhile had introduced a similar law that came into effect in
December last year. Outgoing Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon gave
her reasons for the law prior to its introduction.
"Currently, named person warrants can relate to either telecommunications
services (for example, telephone numbers) being used by a particular person or a
particular telecommunications device (for example, telephone handset)," she said. "The
Bill proposes the existing device-based named person warrant regime be extended
to authorise the interception of communications made by multiple
telecommunications devices," Nixon wrote.
Victoria's Privacy Commissioner Helen Versey objected to the Bill for its
"The vague nature of these items may result in the ability for monitoring of
any communication across any telecommunications device without any requirement
to show necessity or cause for such monitoring prior to obtaining a warrant,"