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Australian SigInt spooks won't get power to spy on locals

But minister quite likes the idea if it can find terrorists, kid vid horrors, has 'safeguards'

On the weekend, Australian government figures denied a plan to give the country's signal-intelligence spooks power to spy on Australian citizens, but yesterday, Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton denied and endorsed the suggestion.

The official denials of discussions to move the Australian Signals Directorate into the already-super-ministry headed by Dutton came from Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, and three departmental heads (of defence, home affairs, and the ASD itself).

Further details of the non-proposal emerged yesterday via the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: there was, apparently, no suggestion the ASD would be able to take down computers in Australia if they being used for organised crime, pen-test Australian companies (with their permission), or instruct companies to improve their infosec (the ASD already advises government departments).

Since its inception, the ASD's operations have always been restricted to overseas targets.

Australian Signals Directorate won't become domestic snoops


With all the denials settled, minister Dutton yesterday confirmed that he reckons an ASD with reach inside Australia is a good idea after all.

“As for some claim that there's going to be some spying taking place on Australian citizens – complete nonsense,” he said in a press conference broadcast on Sky TV.

“If there was to be any look at ways in which we could try and address the cyber threat more effectively, it would be accompanied by the usual protections, including warrant powers either with the A-G or with the relevant justice, whatever the case may be”.

While maintaining the original News Limited story was inaccurate, Dutton said in the press conference there is a “case to be made” for giving the ASD more powers to meet the cyber-threat.

“If we had a capacity to disrupt, for example, the live streaming of children that were being sexually exploited, would we explore ways that we do to that within the law? Of course we would”, he said.

The kinds of powers Dutton is referring to currently fall under the purview of the Australian Security Intelligece Organisation (ASIO), and are detailed in Section 25 of the ASIO Act.

The minister is on the record as a supporter of government-mandated message decryption. In February, he said law-enforcement access to encrypted messages should be “on the same basis as telephone and other intercepts in which companies provide vital and willing assistance in response to court orders”. ®

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