Monday, 08 March 2021 17:01

Video Interview Part 2: Peter Coroneos and Patrick Fair talk Australia's surveillance laws


This is Part 2 of a three part discussion on Australia's cybersecurity legislation, looking at how the Federal Australian Government’s proposed changes to our surveillance laws took everyone by surprise - and what happens next.

The first part of this three part series is titled: "VIDEO Interview: Cybersecurity expert Peter Coroneos talks to top Australia cyber legal and regulatory expert, Prof. Patrick Fair", with part three where Peter Coroneos and Patrick Fair talk about Australia's mandatory data retention laws here.

The first part looks at critical infrastructure laws, the second part which this article discusses looks at surveillance laws, and part three will feature mandatory data retention laws, with all three videos a "must-watch" for anyone working in the cyber area, featuring one of Australia's foremost cyber legal and regulatory experts, Prof. Patrick Fair, and Peter Coroneos, cyber security expert and International VP of CyAN, the CyberSecurity Advisors Network

So, how does Peter Coroneos describe part 2 of the three part series? It is as follows:

If the sound of an “Account Takeover Warrant” sounds scary to you, read on. We’re about to enter a new era of surveillance where cops will have more powers and criminals should start getting nervous.

From the era of the burner phone to the use of secret codes of the past, the contest between adversaries is historically rooted in the access to information flows.

Now, with the dark web and other anonymising technologies the preferred tools of the bad guys, legislators worldwide are pushing back.

This Bill is the latest in a raft of new lawmaking, kicked into gear again in 2015 with the creation of Australia’s Mandatory Data Retention regime followed by the Assistance and Access reforms (a.k.a the Encryption laws) of 2018 and leading into the Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material restrictions of the following year.

The video is embedded below, after which the article continues, please read on!

When cybersecurity leader Peter Coroneos spoke about the changes with legal and regulatory expert Professor Patrick Fair (watch their discussion here) both remarked on the lack of fanfare which had accompanied the Government’s release of draft legislation, released just three weeks before Christmas 2020.

The descriptor of the current Bill... “Identify and Disrupt” pretty much sums up the intent. But the Explanatory Memorandum states it outright:

Cyber-enabled serious and organised crime, often enabled by the dark web and other anonymising technologies, such as bespoke encrypted devices for criminal use, present a direct challenge to community safety and the rule of law....This Bill addresses gaps in the legislative framework to better enable the [relevant agencies] to collect intelligence, conduct investigations, disrupt and prosecute the most serious of crimes, including child abuse and exploitation, terrorism, the sale of illicit drugs, human trafficking, identity theft and fraud, assassinations, and the distribution of weapons.

The Bill which amends 10 existing Acts, is according to Professor Fair, far reaching. It introduces three new, ominous-sounding warrants:

  • Data disruption warrants
  • Network activity warrants, and
  • Account takeover warrants.

According to the Government, expanding the existing powers of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission is justified “to frustrate the commission of serious offences online”.

The New Warrants

The first new warrant type equips the agencies with a new power to disrupt data by modifying, adding, copying or deleting it.

The second will empower the agencies to collect intelligence on serious criminal activity by permitting access to the devices and networks used to ‘facilitate’ criminal activity.

For instance, they can jump onto the network or a target computer of a criminal associate to communicate, without them realising it’s law enforcement on the other end of the conversation. At this point, a host of Hollywood cybercrime plots might flood into your imagination, as the officer variously invites the suspect to a meeting, tells them where to drop the loot or asks for secure access information to further their inquiries.

The name of the third warrant, the Account Takeover warrant, explains itself.


A number of safeguards are built into the Bill.

Firstly, the warrants must be issued by a judge or a member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The Bill explicitly notes the need to balance the privacy of the innocent “to ensure that the AFP and the ACIC use these powers in a targeted and proportionate manner to minimise the potential impact on legitimate users of online platforms.” Whether the safeguards are strong enough will obviously be a matter of opinion and debate.

As to the threshold for each warrant, the requesting officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the device, communication or network is connected with the commission of an offense carrying a minimum jail term of three years.

While there is no doubt law enforcement agencies have been increasingly challenged by the uptake of secure technology by criminals seeking to evade detection, Patrick Fair considers there may be unintended consequences here and he outlines some of his concerns in the 20 minute dialogue with Peter Coroneos, which is embedded above.

The Bill is currently before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS).

The first part of this three part series is titled: "VIDEO Interview: Cybersecurity expert Peter Coroneos talks to top Australia cyber legal and regulatory expert, Prof. Patrick Fair", with part three where Peter Coroneos and Patrick Fair talk about Australia's mandatory data retention laws here.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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