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Proposed AFP dark web powers get cautious tick

The third power – “data disruption warrants” – would allow the AFP and ACIC to modify data belonging to individuals suspected of criminal activity to stop them from distributing harmful material. For example, investigators who were aware of child abuse images would be able to modify or delete the material to prevent its further spread.

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Under the legislation as currently drafted, a judge or member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal would have to approve network activity and data disruption warrants, while a magistrate would have to tick off on account takeover warrants.

The PJCIS inquiry has instead recommended the authority to approve the first two powers be given to either a Federal or Supreme Court judge.

It also suggested the PJCIS committee review the new powers within four years of the laws coming into force and that the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor review them within three years. It called for a sunset clause of five years on each of the new powers, meaning they would have to be re-legislated.

The Morrison government argues the new powers are needed because existing computer access warrants are not designed to address new threats on the “dark web” – a part of the internet that allows users to interact anonymously and therefore can more easily evade traditional law enforcement or investigation methods.

Evidence from AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw to the PJCIS inquiry showed a worrying rise in traffic to the dark web during the COVID-19 pandemic, including 168 per cent more child abuse material identified in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period the previous year.

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