Australia has passed legislation allowing authorities to take control of accounts, edit data, even delete it.

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So, what exactly happened? This week, the Australian Senate enacted a new surveillance bill that gives police broad authority over online data. Although it is assumed that law enforcement will only use the law to address severe crimes committed on the dark web, some are concerned about how broad the new powers appear to be.

The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 gives the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) powers to modify, add to, copy, or delete data to “frustrate the commission of serious offenses online.” To gather evidence of suspected criminal activity, they also have the power to take over online accounts.

Police can do this without formally accusing a person of a crime, according to the Australian Greens Party’s website. “According to the Richardson assessment, this bill allows the AFP and ACIC to act as “judge, jury, and executioner.” In this country, we don’t do things like that “Lidia Thorpe, a Greens senator, agreed.

The law was first submitted in late 2017 and passed both houses of Congress on August 25. It’s now only a matter of waiting for Royal Assent, or the governor general’s ultimate approval. The law is intended to combat serious cybercrime, such as organised crime and child exploitation.

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Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2021 via Parliament of Australia

Former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton stated in August that the new law would only be used against drug trafficking, terrorism, and child abuse on the dark web. Dutton stated that the powers would apply “to those people and those people only” who commit the offences.

The Human Rights Statute Centre in Australia was successful in requesting special protections to prevent police from exploiting the law against journalists and whistleblowers. The HRLC, on the other hand, believes the precautions are insufficient.

“While the safeguards for journalists and whistleblowers are welcome, they highlight the lack of wider entrenched safeguards for press freedom and free speech in Australia,” HRLC senior lawyer Kieran Pender wrote in a statement on the law center’s website. “By enacting wide-ranging surveillance and secrecy laws in the absence of federal human rights laws, successive governments have put the cart before the horse.” In the end, the HRLC estimates that parliament adopted only about half of the changes it recommended.

The HRLC also criticized the speed of the law’s passage through parliament. “It is alarming that, instead of accepting the [parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security’s] recommendations and allowing time for scrutiny of subsequent amendments, the Morrison Government rushed these laws through Parliament in less than 24 hours,” Pender said.