Australian Politician, Peter Dutton, Confirms Government Can Spy On Its Citizens Under Cybersecurity Plan

In a new $1.6 billion cyber strategy initiative, the Australian Signals Directorate can now help law enforcement identify and disrupt criminal activity.

Embed from Getty Images

The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), for those who don’t know, is an agency whose purpose is to “defend Australia from global threats and help advance Australia’s national interests. [They] do this by mastering technology to inform, protect and disrupt,” according to their website. If ASD offers their support to the Australian federal police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, as they plan to do with this new initiative, it would mark the first time that intelligent agencies could directly target specific Australian citizens.

Peter Dutton recently spoke with the media about this new plan and did claim that ASD won’t actually be able to directly help federal agencies in this, and instead will assist law enforcement on targeting terrorists, drug/human traffickers, pedophiles, and other major criminals operating through the dark web. Dutton claims that this new proposal would be used against “those people and those people only.” 

Dutton also explained that the dark web was the biggest target of this new legislation, since so much of the criminal content that’s actually on the internet is embedded deeply on the dark/deep web and can be almost impossible to trace in many cases. 

“The government will ensure law enforcement agencies have appropriate power and technical capabilities to deter, disrupt and defeat the criminal exploitation of the dark web.”

The people of Australia have had a long and controversial history with ASD powers. Like most individuals living in a free country with internet access, cyber security is always a cause for concern. So when the government tells its people that one of the largest cyber intelligence agencies will be able to help law enforcement access whatever personal information they want to on the internet, push back is expected. 

One of the most recent controversies ASD found itself in occurred in 2019 when federal agents raided the home of Annija Smethurst, a News Corp journalist. Apparently the raid was in response to a news report written by Smethurst that claimed the department of home affairs was seeking power from ASD to spy on Australians; something that Dutton has claimed to be false, despite publicly confirming its validity with this new policy. 

Dutton recently claimed to the media that ASD was the best organization for the job as they have a very “unique set of powers” in their operations that has helped stop terrorist attacks in the past. More recently, ASD has been focused on disrupting scam attacks and hacks in relation to information on Australia’s finances and health stats amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Embed from Getty Images

“Law enforcement agencies will be able to tap into ASD’s capabilities but the power only applies to … the Australian federal police and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, not the ASD.”

Embed from Getty Images

Major publications in Australia have reported that the ASD will not be able to collect information from anyone, but instead will be called upon to provide technical capability advice to help assist law enforcement officers access warrants on the computer to identify certain suspects and eventually disrupt major criminal activities. 

Dutton himself will also now have the power to direct members of the ASD in protection certain digital infrastructures from cyber attacks. His specific job title is the Minister of Home Affairs, and he claims that his new capabilities under this legislation will only be used in very serious incidents. 

“If you’re a pedophile you should be worried about these powers, if you’re a terrorist … if you’re committing serious offence in relation to trafficking of drugs, of ice, for example, that’s being pedaled to children, you should be worried about these powers as well.” 

Within the $1.6 billion plan, $470 million of that will be used to expand Australia’s cybersecurity workforce with 500 new jobs created within the ASD. $125 million will be used to double the federal police’s cyber enforcement division by creating 100 new positions. 

The overall goal of this new legislation is to target the criminals online who are not only engaging in criminal conversations that could lead to the harm of others, but the ones who are taking advantage of the internet’s most vulnerable group of users; kids. “The reality is people are trying their best to groom kids online and … people are trading gun parts on the dark web and it cannot be a lawless space. This law applies to those people and those people only,” Dutton further explained.

The legislation’s plans will likely begin to come into reality in the coming months, and will begin to focus on actual policy change that will overall lead to a much safer internet space for Australia.