Controversial new powers allowing federal police and organised crime investigators to take control of online accounts and “disrupt” data are now in use, the Department of Home Affairs has revealed.
The department said in answers to questions on notice from senate estimates that the first warrants were issued under the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Act (SLAID Act) late last year.
Under the legislation, the Australian Federal Police and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission have access to three new warrants to tackle serious crime enabled by anonymising technology.
The warrants allow the agencies to take control of a person’s online account, as well as add, copy, delete or alter material to disrupt criminal activity and collect intelligence from online networks.
While the legislation passed in August, the department said the first months were spent working through “administrative steps” to ensure issuing authorities knew how to use the warrants.
“These processes are now finalised and there are issuing authorities available to issue data disruption, network activity and account takeover warrants,” the department said [pdf] last month.
“As of December 2021, agencies have obtained warrants under the new powers introduced by the SLAID Act.”
Home Affairs did not disclose which type of warrant, or whether the Australian Federal Police or the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission had obtained the warrants.
Prior to the passage of the SLAID Act, authorities had long argued that computer access warrants were not capable of addressing new threats caused by the increasing usage of anonymising technologies.
Last year, the federal government and the AFP cited Operation Ironside, a huge bust that resulted in the arrests of more than 290 people, as a reason for the new powers.