Spy watchdog needs more resources to monitor new powers

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Spy watchdog needs more resources to monitor new powers

New laws mean more work.

Australia’s intelligence watchdog, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, would need additional resources to effectively monitor the use of new powers the Government plans to give the country’s spy agencies.

As part of a package of legislation introduced by the Government in mid July, the country’s intelligence agencies would receive new tools to bring them up to date with a technology-driven environment.

The bill would, among other things,

  • allow ASIO to access all computers at one location related to a relevant person under one warrant;
  • amend the definition of “computer” to include all computers operating in a network;
  • allow just one warrant to be required for a series of surveillance techniques as part of an investigation; and
  • remove the need for ASIS to gain ministerial approval to collect and share with ASIO information on Australians located outside the country.

But the country’s intelligence oversight body today warned it would struggle to maintain proper oversight across ASIO’s proposed expanded ability to search computers within its current resources.

In her submission to the inquiry investigating the legislation, Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Vivienne Thom said while the office of the IGIS had “sufficient authority” to oversight the new powers, the proposed amendments would “increase the scope and complexity of oversight arrangements and the workload of the OIGIS”.

She said her 11-person office would require additional resources - including technical expertise to properly monitor ASIO’s computer access and operations - to maintain the extra level of oversight it would need to provide under the proposed legislation.

"From an oversight perspective the challenge for the IGIS will be in determining whether interference occurred and, if so, whether it was 'material' and 'necessary',” she said in her submission.

"The increasing complexity of computer related operations means that the IGIS office requires increased access to technical expertise to oversight these operations effectively."

Thom said the office would additionally need to keep an eye on proposed changes allowing ASIO to use surveillance devices without a warrant in a number of circumstances.

She also expects that removing the requirement for ASIS to obtain ministerial approval before collecting and sharing information on Australian citizens overseas would generate an increase in the activity, once more increasing the supervisory workload.

The office of the IGIS raised concerns that the legislation did not ensure ASIO delete any irrelevant data on citizens it collects during investigations.

"There is no obligation in the current or proposed legislation that would require ASIO at any point in time to actively consider whether information obtained under such a warrant is actually related to the individual who was the subject of the warrant and no obligation to promptly delete information generated by or about individuals who are not relevant to security," the inspector-general said.

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