Australian government to boost spy powers on back of Iraq fears

On the back of fears over the Australians joining conflicts in Iraq and Syria, Attorney-General George Brandis is set to introduce legislation for new spying powers for Australian's peak intelligence agency.

Attorney-General George Brandis is set to give the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) significant new powers in response to claims up to 150 Australians have joined the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

Before the last election, the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security reviewed Australia's telecommunications interception and access legislation in response to law enforcement agencies' complaints to government that advancements in technology, and the limited record-keeping of customer billing information by telecommunications companies, was making it difficult for them to investigate crime.

The most controversial request was for telecommunications companies to keep call record, IP address information, and other so-called "metadata" for up to two years.

The former Labor government did not act on the recommendations , but the new Coalition government has today indicated it would proceed with one batch of recommendations, bringing on new legislation in the next few weeks.

Brandis said the decision to bring forward the legislation came as Australian intelligence organisations found that up to 150 Australians were believed to have joined ISIL in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, and would be prosecuted for being members of a group listed as a terrorist organisation under Australian law.

"The Government has decided to give effect to important recommendations of the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security in its report into potential reforms to Australia’s national security legislation," Brandis said.

"In particular, I will be introducing legislation in the next sitting fortnight to give effect to the recommendations in chapter four of that report. Those are the series of recommendations which deal with the powers of Australia's national security agencies. That legislation has been developed in recent weeks and, as I say, I will be introducing it in the next sitting fortnight."

Chapter four of the commitee's report contains 22 recommendations that deal with ASIO's powers to tap, and search computers and other devices.

Under the new legislation ASIO will be able to obtain a warrant to access all computers at a specific location, and all computers associated with a particular person, where before it wasn't clear in the legislation whether the warrant provided access to just a single computer.

ASIO would also be able to disrupt target computers, accessing the computers of people associated with national security targets, and communications in transit to a target computer.

For the moment, the government has not made any announcement around plans to legislate data retention, however it has been reported in the past few days that data retention would be kept as a separate piece of legislation to ensure ASIO's new powers have a better chance of getting through parliament with bipartisan support.

Labor has already flagged , however, that it would also be supportive of a mandatory data retention regime.

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