02 October 2014

National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014

The Australian Senate has passed the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014. It has a lot of interesting amendments to various pieces of legislation such as to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979, which gives it a framework for ASIO affiliates who may be consultants or contractors to the organisation. It also allows for secondment to or from the organisation, and one presumes that if an employee is seconded to an overseas intelligence organisation, they retain their powers.

The bill is quite long and has many interesting provisions in it, so I’ll just note the couple of issues for now and perhaps come back to the bill later. There are a number of provisions around computer surveillance, which may be of a particular computer or a computer on particular premises, or a computer associated with a person, whether or not the person’s identity is known. In appropriate cases it permits adding, copying, deleting or altering other data in the computer, but this should not materially interfere with the operation of the computer unless it is necessary for the purpose of the warrant.

The bill also has quite a number of provisions in relation to how a surveillance device warrant may be issued and attempts to achieve a fairly high bar before a warrant will be issued. Such a warrant can authorise removing say, a clock, inserting a device into it and then returning the clock to the premises. Even electricity cables may be tapped, and I understand that there is some technology available that can provide intelligence from power cables.

Many of the activities set out in the bill may be done upon authorisation by the Minister or the Director-General, rather than a judge.

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