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15 January 2013, 10:03

Australian secret services to get licence to hack

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ASIO crest According to a news report, Australia's Attorney-General's Department wants to permit the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to hack IT systems belonging to non-involved, non-targeted parties. The report cites a spokesperson for Australia's Attorney-General Nicola Roxon as saying that the agency would then use these systems to access the actual target computers belonging to security targets such as terrorist suspects or suspected criminals. Stringent conditions would be attached to the use of these powers to ensure that they would be used only in exceptional cases.

Their use would not, however, require the approval of an independent court. The spokesperson says that Roxon would have to approve all such interventions. The ASIO would not be permitted to investigate third-party computers used in this way online or to obtain intelligence material from them. Covert online searches and surveillance of target systems would, however, be permitted. To date, the Australian secret services have not had broad powers to deploy governmental malware and in particular are not allowed to alter data on or interrupt processes running on target computers.

The plans are opposed by civil rights organisations and data protection officials. The Electronic Frontiers Australia organisation has criticised the government for copying the techniques used by cyber-criminals. The Privacy Commissioner for the State of Victoria has complained that the plan is "extraordinarily broad" and intrudes deep into the basic rights of the third parties involved. He describes the proposed powers as "characteristic of a police state".

The Attorney-General's department previously submitted a discussion paper calling for data retention to be required for up to two years irrespective of whether or not the owner was a suspect. Following major protests, including from ISPs, that proposal has been shelved for the time being. It is, however, expected to be resubmitted after the next general election, likely to take place sometime this year.

(Stefan Krempl / sno)

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