AFP, ACIC online account takeover powers under sweeping surveillance laws

Law enforcement will be given the power to take control of serious online criminals’ accounts after the “most significant review” into the nation’s intelligence set-up was released.

Attorney-General Christian Porter released a declassified version of the Richardson Review on Friday, saying it had found the nation’s security apparatuses was “well maintained and largely fit for purpose”.

While Mr Porter said a significant overhaul was not required, he argued there was a need for “evolutionary change” in some areas to keep pace with rapidly changing threats.

“The threat environment is fluid, dynamic and real. When we say that massive amounts of what goes on to protect Australians and work that happens behind the scenes, this is a real thing,” he said.

“What Australians can take great comfort from is that we have had one of the greatest experts in the field, resourced to the tune of millions of dollars, (and) being given open access to all of the agencies.

“The report gives a very, very clean bill of health to the professionalism and proprieties of the agencies.”

He revealed the government had agreed in full or in part to all but four of the review’s 203 recommendations. But he warned implementing the changes could take between a year and 18 months.

The review’s release came after the government introduced a new law enforcement proposal to parliament on Thursday, which would give the AFP and intelligence agencies sweeping powers to disrupt a broad range of offences online.

The laws are designed to combat “serious commonwealth offences” online including terrorism, child abuse and money laundering, which are often conducted on the dark web.

The powers “are not limited to” those offences, a loophole critics warn could leave it open to abuse.

The laws would create three new warrants for the AFP and Australian Criminal Commission to frustrate online criminals, including:

• Account takeover warrants, including the power take control of a suspects’ online accounts. This would require a magistrate’s approval

• Data disruption warrants, empowering law enforcement to delete, modify or disrupt data

• Network activity warrants, enabling intelligence on serious online criminal networks to be collected.

An Administrative Appeals Tribunal judge or member would be required to sign off on the latter two.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton claimed the laws were necessary to “shine a light into the darkest recesses of the online world and hold those hiding there to account”.

“Online anonymity, combined with less-traceable cryptocurrencies, allows criminals to trade in the most abhorrent online marketplaces with perceived impunity,” he warned.

“Without enhancing the … powers, we leave them with outdated ways of attacking an area of criminality that is only increasing in prevalence.”

The powers would be activated if police suspected a “serious commonwealth office”, or a serious state offence with relevance to federal authorities, was being committed.

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