Laws criticised for creating a spooks' warrant for the whole of Australia's Internet - kind of a "spook-envy" of what the NSA says it can accomplish - look like passing before the end of this week, with attorney-general George Brandis declining to limit the scope of ASIO data-tap warrants.
As part of its more general ramp-up of national security legislation, the federal government wants to create a warrant that allows ASIO to tap computer networks, under the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2014.
Under that legislation, Brandis told the Senate, ASIO could use a single warrant to access computers on a network – with no definition of what constitutes a network. That's led legal experts and Greens senator Scott Ludlam to ask whether such a warrant could reach out across the whole Australian Internet.
As well as Ludlam, critics of the law include UNSW law professor George Williams and lecturer Keiran Hardy, and Electronic Frontiers Australia.
Brandis has now told the Senate the law's scope will not be given a legislative definition, but will rather rely on the attorney-general's oversight. Brandis told parliament it's “unworkable” to constrain ASIO in legislation, and that such constraints ignored what might happen in the future.
“How can anyone — certainly, how can Senator Ludlam — stand in the Senate today and anticipate what the needs of ASIO will be in relation to warrant based computer access next year, or in 10 years time, or for however long this legislation exists?” he told the Senate (apparently ignoring parliament's ability to change legislation).
Instead, ASIO will be subject to attorney-general's guidelines which require it to cause as little intrusion to privacy as possible, only gather data relevant to the investigation, and only act in ways that are “proportionate” to a given threat.
What could possibly go wrong? ®