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Drive to Expand Australian Cyber Spy Powers

Australia’s military cyber spy agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), could soon be receiving radical new espionage powers to monitor Australian citizens for the first time. If approved, the ASD may be able to secretly access the digital information of Australians including emails, health data, bank records, and text messages.

The Sunday Telegraph revealed a series of top secret letters exchanged between the heads of the Department of Home Affairs and Department of Defence discussing the plan to potentially allow government hackers to “proactively disrupt and covertly remove” onshore cyber threats by “hacking into our critical infrastructure.”

Currently, only ASIO and the Australian Federal Police have the powers to investigate Australians and they require a warrant to do so. Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said that the proposed expansion was in response to the increasing sophistication of transnational criminal activity.

The proposed changes could grant the ASD powers to compel Australian companies and government agencies to hand over data or security information when requested. The expansion has been justified on the basis that traditional law enforcement lacks the technical capacity to fully identify, detect and disrupt systemic transnational organised crime involving Australian citizens, and often relies on foreign law enforcement partners.

There is no need to panic just yet however, with Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop stating that there are no plans for the Government to expand the powers of the ASD as the laws already in place can target transnational crime while maintaining Australian’s privacy.

Copyright 2020 K & L Gates


About this Author

Warwick Andersen Technology Lawyer KL Gates

Mr. Andersen is a senior corporate lawyer with a focus on commercial, technology and sourcing projects. He has advised on large scale outsourcing projects, technology agreements for both vendors and customers, corporate support, privacy and telecommunications regulatory work. He has acted for government departments, large listed companies, telecommunications companies and technology suppliers.

Rob Pulham Corporate Attorney K&L Gates
Special Counsel

Rob Pulham is an experienced corporate advisory and transactional lawyer with an active technology and privacy practice representing companies in the energy, manufacturing, mining, retail, health and financial services sectors, as well as government and not for profit organisations. He has extensive experience advising customers and vendors in the technology industry, with particular focus on software licensing, data privacy and protection, and systems integration projects. In his role as a senior corporate lawyer, Mr. Pulham reviews organisational policies and practices regarding data privacy to identify key risks, develops and implements strategies to mitigate privacy and cybersecurity risks, and advises clients in the investigation of, and response to, data breaches.

Mr. Pulham also serves as a strategic advisor to his clients, regularly advising on large outsourcing and technology procurement matters including negotiating software licensing terms with ERP and CRM vendors such as Oracle, SAP and Salesforce, and on major systems integration transactions. He advises his clients on all facets of their technology practices, procurement and needs, including key technology procurement requirements and licensing issues (acting for both customer and service provider clients), marketing and advertising in compliance with Australian competition and consumer laws, website content and terms of use, and general commercial intellectual property and software licensing matters.