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According to a cybersecurity expert (and the AFP itself), the fine print of our anti-encryption laws emboldened the June’s brazen raid of the ABC.
According to both a cybersecurity expert and the AFP itself, the anti-encryption laws passed by the federal parliament last year have been used to bypass existing protections and emboldened the recent raids of numerous journalists.
At the end of 2018, new anti-encryption laws came into effect, the same piece of legislation that was apparently evoked during the AFP’s notorious raids of the ABC. The law is now being examined by a parliamentary committee.
The law included a series of changes to allowing law enforcement officials access to encrypted data. Nestled in the act, however, was the provision allowing officers to “add, copy, delete or alter” material as part of the warrant process. In layman’s, it allows officers access to what they deem as nefarious, and can thusly edit whatever they find, even if the data is encrypted. This law also motivated the raid on the home of journalist Annika Smethurst.
“In June 2019, the Australian federal police executed two search warrants in relation to secrecy offences in part 6 (offences by and against public officers) and part 7 (official secrets and unlawful soundings) of the Crimes Act…in executing these search warrants, the AFP used section 3F of the Crimes Act, which was amended by schedule 3 of the Assistance and Access Act,” the Department of Home Affairs blankly mentioned via a statement.
As The Guardian has already noted, cybersecurity expert Riana Pfefferkorn has taken umbrage with the process, adding a personal submission to the parliamentary review, claiming that the AFP’s actions subverted the existing protections offered to journalists, and more accurately, that the new laws removed the need for a warrant.
“Law enforcement’s powers granted under the Data Retention Act in 2015 were augmented by the new powers the Assistance and Access Act provided at the end of 2018, creating the framework that authorised the federal police in mid-2019 to raid the homes and offices of journalists over articles published in July 2017 and April 2018, in defiance of international norms,” Pfefferkorn said.
Another part of the missive from Pfefferkorn defines the unreality of the time, stating that “…because parliament passed these laws, the federal police had the power to strike a chilling blow against press freedom in Australia, and call it lawful.”