Australian Goverment Mulls Allowing Authorities to Hack Your Computer

There’s some rather scary news coming from Australia right now. The Australian government is considering sweeping new surveillance powers which includes the surveillance of social networking sites and data retention. While that isn’t exactly novel, buried in the proposal is a provision that would allow police to hack your computer for the purposes of gathering information on you.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The Australian government has released a discussion paper (PDF) that details what the government is actively considering for new surveillance legislation. Pages 10 – 11 (what the PDF reader is reading. The actual document says it’s pages 9 – 10) says the following:

B. Government is considering the following proposals:

Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979

8. Streamlining and reducing complexity in the lawful access to communications regime — this would include:

a. Creating a single warrant with multiple TI powers

9. Modernising the Industry assistance framework —

a. Implement detailed requirements for industry interception obligations
b. extend the regulatory regime to ancillary service providers not currently covered by the legislation
c. implement a three‐tiered industry participation model Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979

10. Amending the ASIO Act to create an authorised intelligence operations scheme. This will provide ASIO officers and human sources with protection from criminal and civil liability for certain conduct in the course of authorised intelligence operations.

11. Amending the ASIO Act to modernise and streamline ASIO’s warrant provisions to:

a. Establish a named person warrant enabling ASIO to request a single warrant specifying multiple (existing) powers against a single target instead of requesting multiple warrants against a single target.
b. Align surveillance device provisions with the Surveillance Devices Act 2007
c. Enable the disruption of a target computer for the purposes of a computer access warrant
d. Enable person searches to be undertaken independently of a premises search
e. Establish classes of persons able to execute warrants

11. c. looks like it enables authorities to hack into someone’s computer. How else can you interpret “Government is considering […] the disruption of a target computer for the purposes of a computer access warrant” in the context of Internet surveillance?

To my knowledge, data retention and the removal of the checks and balances is nothing new. It doesn’t make such proposals right, but those sorts of ideas have been proposed in many governments already. The hacking into a personal computer is, to my knowledge, the most extreme form of government surveillance that I am aware of. It’s so extreme, the only time I’ve personally ever heard it proposed anywhere was back in 2009 when the French government proposed LOPPSI 2. That idea called for the ability for police to install key loggers and Trojan horses on people’s computers.

The idea that another government has the gall to propose something like this is absolutely shocking. Under this proposal, users would not only have to worry about malicious websites, malicious hackers who want to covertly turn your computer into a zombie computer, viruses and worms that drains people’s bank accounts and the like, but now users have to worry about their own government breaking into their computer as well.

Delimiter notes that Electronic Frontier Australia has likened this system to the system that is in Iran and China:

Speaking on ABC television last week, EFA executive office Jon Lawrence said what the package amounted to was “a massive increasine in surveillance powers, with a corresponding decrease in accountability”. “What we’re seeing here is the sort of powers that probably fit better in a place like China or Iran,” he said. Both China and Iran are noted for being countries where citizens’ activities on the Internet and other communications channels are strictly controlled and monitored, especially in areas where citizens have the capacity to express dissent against the countries’ ruling governments.

I’ve seen a lot in my time covering surveillance and I have to say that this proposal stuns me. How do you propose the hacking of your citizens computers and suggest that this is for the protection of the country? I don’t see any excuse that permits authorities to hack people’s computers. None. In my opinion, you have to be on a completely different planet to believe this is even remotely a good idea. Let’s hope this little tidbit is never brought into law.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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