Australia's cybercrime bill draws more criticism

Australia's cybercrime bill draws more criticism

Alarmed by the broad range of powers being given to Commonwealth security agencies under the Australian Federal Government's Cybercrime Bill 2001, the Australian Computer Society (ACS) last week presented a submission to parliament.

While supporting the legislation "in principle", the ACS has serious reservations about the bill, which allows the Defence Signals Directorate and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to legally hack systems.

The bill forces companies by law to reveal passwords, keys, codes and cryptographic and stenographic methods used to protect information.

Presenting the submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee, ACS vice president Philip Argy said the bill was supposed to be based on the Model Criminal Code but has made serious departures from the original report.

The bill proposes seven new computer offenses carrying jail terms of up to 10 years and makes it illegal to possess hacker toolkits, scanners and virus code.

"We need to avoid making criminal offenses of innocuous or legitimate computer-related activities and the bill potentially does this through its broad use of language," Argy said.

He pointed out that the original report into the bill warned: "One might just as well argue for offenses of impeding the lawful use of a television or record player."

Argy said seemingly reasonable provisions are converted into precisely the prohibitions the bill was supposed to avoid and leaves everyday activity vulnerable to prosecution "by misguided, if not over-zealous enforcement authorities".

While the ACS supports enforcement, Argy said education within enforcement agencies is a significant element in fighting computer-related crime.

"We also want civil liberties protected and to ensure strong legislation isn't used by enforcement agencies for harassment or other ulterior purposes. We are calling for investigative powers to be subject to appropriate supervision and scrutiny," Argy said.

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