Federal law enforcement and national security agencies have started using encryption-busting powers passed by parliament in December last year, and state-based police are set to be trained in using the powers this month.
The Department of Home Affairs said today that the new powers, rushed into law on December 6, had been used to “support” the work of federal agencies.
“The Department understands that Commonwealth law enforcement and national security agencies have used the powers in the Act to support operations and investigations,” it told a senate committee examining the laws. [pdf]
“The Department refers to the submissions from agencies for further details on the use of the powers.”
None of that detail is likely to escape into the public domain, however, due to extensive secrecy provisions that bind all parties affected by the laws.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has already filed a submission, but the entire document is missing, with a single page noting it is “confidential to the committee”.
Home Affairs said that it had produced “interim guidance material” for federal agencies “to aid the urgent use of key powers in the Act ... during the Christmas and New Year period”.
The laws were rushed through parliament in part because the government claimed they were needed to combat undisclosed threats over the holiday period.
Home Affairs said it is now engaging with agencies, communications providers, multinational companies and industry groups to try and develop more “comprehensive guidance and training material”.
“This process is ongoing,” it said.
“The guidelines will develop standard forms and administrative arrangements to guide the consistent use of the powers, including guidance that makes clear government obligations with respect to consultation, information security and oversight of the powers.
“The Department will also hold meetings across Australia to discuss the Act with industry stakeholders that are likely to be impacted by the legislation.”
Further use of the powers is also likely as Home Affairs begins to train state and territory based police forces in their use.
“In conjunction with the Australian Federal Police, the department has delivered on-site training on the use of the powers to NSW Police and Victoria Police,” it said.
“Further training will be delivered to other state and territory police forces in February 2019.”
Home Affairs said it was also in the process of sourcing technical and judicial assessors and experts that can be used to determine whether an agency request is permissible or not.