SIS Amendment Bill extends powers?

The SIS Amendment Bill has been introduced along with its Regulatory Impact Statement

The authors of the Bill describe it as an update to support new technology and clarify existing provisions. The main changes the Bill makes are:

  1. Adds support for the use electronic tracking devices.
  2. Clarifies that the SIS aren't affected by the anti-hacking laws if they are working with computers.
  3. Allows specifying of the targets of warrants by nom-de-internets, mobile numbers or IP addresses.
  4. Clarifying that SIS agents are free from liability when breaking and entering.
  5. Establishing that SIS agents are free from liability when executing a warrant whether the target is domestic or foreign.
  6. Allows the SIS to have more say in who they use to exercise warrants without having to specify them in the warrant application.

How much does this extend the powers of the SIS to spy on people?

Existing SIS Powers

The current SIS legislation is already incredibly broad:

The Minister and the Commissioner may jointly issue a domestic|foreign interception warrant, authorising a person to intercept or seize any communication, document, or thing not otherwise lawfully obtainable by the person,...

The law goes on to specify that they can break in to places to install bugs, modify any equipment, etc, etc. There is very little limit on what they can do once they have been granted a warrant.

In 2008/2009 the SIS had 24 warrants issued with an average duration of 158 days.

Effect of Law Change

It is my opinion that the impact of the law change on civil liberties will be minimal. The SIS already have very wide powers with little oversight and nothing really changes.

  • The changes around freedom from liability and from the anti-hacking laws really are just clean ups of the existing law. 
  • When the SIS can "install or modify any device or equipment" to watch someone, explicitly adding the use of tracking devices does not seem like a big extension of powers.
  • It makes sense for the SIS to be able to apply for warrants to track a particular alias or facility, in the same way they would bug a telephone line.
  • The final administrative change of allowing them to make changes to the personnel who are executing the warrant seems like an administrative change without any threat to civil liberties.

Conclusion

The SIS Amendment Bill is not any more of a threat to civil liberties than the current Act. Of course, this brings into question whether the current Act is too broad, an issue that will apparently be covered in a promised more wide-ranging review.

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