Australia joins convention on cybercrime treaty

Australia has now officially joined 38 other nations as part of an international cybercrime treaty designed to assist international collaboration against online crimes.

Last year, Australia passed the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 as part of the prerequisites to become a party to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime. While extending the scope of Commonwealth-related computer offences, it also, controversially, required internet service providers (ISPs) to store customer data on persons deemed under suspicion by law-enforcement agencies. This information is stored without warrant, but only handed over once law enforcement obtains one.

At the time, it was generally supported by the Labor and Coalition governments, but the Greens held some reservations about the new legislation. One of the concerns raised by Greens spokesperson Scott Ludlam was that if information was sent overseas, nothing would prevent it from coming back under weaker privacy laws. This would theoretically open a loophole for anyone wanting to circumvent the local Privacy Act.

The Greens' concerns were ultimately voted against in parliament.

Debate over the issue has been significant, with some stating that the legislation is a step backward , and that it opens the door to a complete data-retention scheme . The latter is now being debated in a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said that in addition to enabling local law enforcement to access and share information with international counterparts, Australians' privacy protections would be maintained.

"A warrant is always required to access the content of a communication, whether the information is in Australia, or accessed from overseas under the Cybercrime Convention," he said in a statement.

"The Cybercrime Act and the Cybercrime Convention do not impact in any way on the need to have a warrant to access content from a telephone call, SMS, or email."