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Concerns raised over NSW hacking Bill

Civil rights and privacy advocates yesterday expressed concern about a NSW Parliament proposal that would allow the state's police to remotely access a suspect's computer for up to 28 days without disclosing the hack for some time.
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Written by Liam Tung, Contributor on

Civil rights and privacy advocates yesterday expressed concern about a NSW Parliament proposal that would allow the state's police to remotely access a suspect's computer for up to 28 days without disclosing the hack for some time.

How thoughtful of the legislative draftsman to facilitate judge-shopping

Privacy advocate Roger Clarke

The NSW Government has proposed an amendment to the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 which would, with a Supreme Court judge's permission, give police the authority to remotely access a suspect's computer for seven days at a time. Police would not be required to inform suspects for up to three years.

The full text of the amendment can be found online.

"These changes can't be dismissed out of hand but they are a very serious intrusion into what has been the proven balance in criminal investigations," chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation, Roger Clarke told ZDNet.com.au.

While the covert search warrants under the Bill did appear to be limited to "serious offences" carrying sentences of at least seven years, Clarke said the legislation would allow a judge to make them self available, but also enable the state Attorney-General to decline to add them to the schedule.

"How thoughtful of the legislative draftsman to facilitate judge-shopping," he said.

Clarke, along with Geordie Guy, a spokesperson for Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), said that citizens of NSW had not been given fair opportunity to develop a response about what impact the legislation would have on privacy.

EFA's Guy said he understood why Premier Nathan Rees would have wanted to avoid it. "Rees could have expected to have been howled down on the matter. That would be why he went unilaterally ahead," he said.

"Remote hacking powers are the equivalent of giving police covert access to people's bedrooms," he said.

Joe Catanzariti, president of the Law Society of NSW, said the organisation was opposed to the concept of covert search warrants in general.

"The requirement for notice of an intended search is an important safeguard and in its absence the potential for abuse is extreme. The covert search warrant scheme in the Bill seriously undermines the balance between the State's right to investigate and prosecute crime and the rights of individuals to carry out their proper business and lives without fear of intrusion by the State," Catanzariti said in a statement.

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