Coalition, Labor back boost in ASIO's powers

Parties combine to remove restrictions on ASIO's hacking activities

Coalition and Labor senators have combined to pass the government's first tranche of national security legislation.

Senators voted 44-22 to pass National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 which contains provisions removing many restrictions on ASIO's hacking activities.

The legislation allows ASIO to use third party computers and networks in order to hack the target of a computer access warrant; a measure the government has argued is necessary because of increasing technical sophistication among surveillance targets.

Although ASIO will not be permitted to access content on a third party system that isn't covered by a warrant, the organisation will be able to interfere with it in order to hack the target system.

The legislation also changes the definition of computer for the purposes of warrants to "one or more computers", "one or more computer systems", "one or more computer networks", or "any combination of the above".

The broadening of the definition has attracted criticism, with opponents arguing that it could arguably apply to the entire Internet.

"[T]he government appears to have allowed — I won't call it a loophole because that implies it would have been accidental — but the ability for a single ASIO warrant to encompass an unlimited number of devices," Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said yesterday during debate on an amendment that would have limited to 20 the number of devices covered by a single computer access warrant.

The package also legislates a category of ASIO operations — Special Intelligence Operations — and introduces rules relating to public disclosure of details about them.

A joint submission by AAP, ABC, APN, ASTRA, Bauer Media, Commercial Radio Australia, Fairfax Media, FreeTV, MEAA, News Corp Australia, SBS, and The West Australian to an inquiry on the bill expressed concerns that the provisions could lead to journalists being jailed for reporting on ASIO.

The legislation was opposed by the Greens, independent senators Nick Xeonphon and John Madigan, and Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm. The Palmer United Party and Family First supported the government.

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