Attorney-General George Brandis has indicated that the federal government will seek to boost the powers of national security agencies such as ASIO. The changes potentially include recommendations from a committee of the previous parliament that advocated changes to the ASIO Act to "enable the disruption of a target computer for the purposes of executing a computer access warrant."
The attorney-general today told the Senate that 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."
"In particular, I will be introducing legislation in the next sitting fortnight to give effect to the recommendations in chapter four of that report," the attorney-general said.
"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."
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security in June last year issued the report on changes to national security legislation.
Recommendations in section four of the report include updating the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 to address difficulties "that can arise in executing ASIO’s computer access warrants".
The ASIO Act "should be amended so that the prohibition on disrupting computers does not apply to activities that would be necessary to execute the warrant," the committee's report stated.
Legislation "currently restricts ASIO from doing anything under a computer access warrant that adds, deletes or alters data or interferes with, interrupts, or obstructs the lawful use of the target computer by other persons."
"This prohibition operates regardless of how minor or inconsequential the interference, interruption or obstruction may be," the report stated.
Another recommendation in section four of the report is that legislation should be amended so that ASIO can "access third party computers and communications in transit to access a target computer under a computer access warrant".
In a separate section of its report the committee considered whether a mandatory data retention scheme should be introduced, but declined to take a firm position on the issue.
"This is ultimately a decision for Government," the report stated.
"If the Government is persuaded that a mandatory data retention regime should proceed, the Committee recommends that the Government publish an exposure draft of any legislation and refer it to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for examination."
Asked on Monday about data retention and so-called metadata, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told a press conference that "it's important to ensure that our police and our security services have the means at their disposal to ensure that our community is safe," and that the government "will do whatever is reasonably necessary to secure the safety of our community."
The Telecommunication (Interception and Access) Act 1979, changes to which were also canvassed by the committee, is currently the subject of an inquiry instigated by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.