Australia’s Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) might be granted the power to hack into personal computers in an effort to enhance their capabilities of tracking suspected terrorists.The Attorney-General's Department has submitted the request to a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, but critics of the plan say it will turn Australia into a police state.
“The purpose of this power is to allow ASIO to access the computer of suspected terrorists and other security interests. [It would be used] in extremely limited circumstances and only when explicitly approved by the Attorney-General through a warrant,” a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Department told News Limited.
“Importantly, the warrant would not authorise ASIO to obtain intelligence material from the third party computer.”
Currently, Australian spies are not allowed to do “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.”
In the document submitted to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, the Attorney General’s Department highlights the fact that advancements in technology have made it difficult for ASIO to execute computer access warrants, especially if the targeted individual knows a thing or two about security.
“The ability to use a third party computer or communication in transit for the purpose of executing a computer access warrant would enable ASIO to gain access to the relevant computer where direct access is not possible,” the document reads.
While ASIO seeks these powers to combat terrorism, representatives of civil rights organizations highlight the fact that they could be abused to spy on individuals that have nothing to do with terrorism.
For instance, the spy agency can target journalists who are provided information by whistleblowers.