The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 (Identify and Disrupt Bill) passed both houses of federal parliament on 25 August 2021.
The first-time surveillance bill got approval from the parliament within 24 hours. With the bill in effect, law enforcement agencies such as the police can now hack your device, collect or delete your data, take over your social media accounts – all without a judge’s warrant.
Official Summary of the Bill
Here is the official summary of the surveillance bill:
The Surveillance Devices Act 2004 and Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 – to introduce data disruption warrants to enable the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) to disrupt data by modifying, adding, copying, or deleting data to frustrate the commission of serious offenses online.
The Surveillance Devices Act 2004 – to introduce network activity warrants to enable the AFP and ACIC to collect intelligence on serious criminal activity by permitting access to the devices and networks used to facilitate criminal activity.
The Crimes Act 1914 – to introduce account takeover warrants to enable the AFP and ACIC to take over a person’s online account to gather evidence to further a criminal investigation; and make minor amendments to the controlled operations regime to ensure controlled operations can be conducted effectively in the online environment.
What Does This Mean for Australians?
The new law extends broad powers to Australian law enforcement agencies, enabling them to identify and intercept an online user under suspicion of online criminal activity.
Three new warrants have come into effect, which will provide the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission control of the following:
- Data Disruption Warrant – allows them to modify or delete the data of suspected offenders.
- Network Activity Warrant – allows them to collect intelligence on criminal networks.
- Account Takeover Warrant – allows them to take control of a suspected offenders’ online account.
What’s shocking is that anyone who assists the government in hacking into an individual’s account is protected from civil liability. Simultaneously, if an individual refuses to comply with the governments’ demand of assisting in hacking could face up to 10 years imprisonment.
What Does This Mean for Online Privacy of Australians?
Online criminal activity is increasing rapidly, and with technology facilitating online crime, detecting online crime is becoming increasingly difficult for law enforcement agencies.
With encrypted applications and cryptocurrencies in place, cybercriminals are increasingly benefiting from the lack of regulations when engaging in illegal activity. While online criminal activity exists as you read this, the online privacy of Australians is at risk.
Before the parliament passed this bill, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) cautioned that the upcoming surveillance warrants could have a catastrophic impact on the privacy of Australians and people visiting the country, especially those who have no involvement in criminal activity.
It is going to be a challenge for law enforcement agencies to identify suspected criminal activity at first. Once it is identified, they will intercept that activity without the individual knowing about it. Once interception is successful, and they find proof, action will be taken against the individual.
This bill is a breach of their online privacy for Australians, with privacy advocates strongly opposing the legislation.
How to Stay Secure on the Web?
With the new surveillance law in effect, Australians can say goodbye to their online privacy and security. It’s like locking your house door at night only to find out that authorities backed by the government unlock your door and come inside your house without taking your consent.
This bill is against the basic rights of online users who trust to browse the web without being surveilled. This will only add to the existing paranoia and give a free hand to cybercriminals who may disguise themselves as legal bodies. The last thing an internet user wants is to get questioned or face penalties over their basic digital activities.
The most foolproof way to stay secure online and stay safe from the surveillance bill is to be anonymous on the web. Online anonymity ensures your internet activities are kept off the radar with the help of encryption.
By using a VPN, you can go off-grid and keep your digital activities to yourself. Additionally, VPN users can hide their online traffic from ISPs who share user data with regulatory entities. When connected to the VPN, authorities won’t be able to identify you or the content from network data.
A VPN secures your online activities with AES 256-bit encryption, meaning an intruder cannot intercept your internet connection. Even if your internet connection gets intercepted, the only information the eavesdropper will get is gibberish data which is of no use to anyone. By encrypting your connection with a VPN, you evade the repercussions that come along with the surveillance bill.