AFP, ACIC continue to use account takeover, network activity powers – Hardware – Security – Software

Two Australian law enforcement agencies handed warrant powers to access devices and alter or delete data in 2021 continued to utilise those powers in their second year of existence.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) were given online account takeover and data disruption powers via changes to surveillance laws in August 2021.

Reporting at the end of 2022 showed that the powers were utilised six times in their first year of operation.

Similar levels of usage were observed in the second full year of operation, albeit that only two of the three warrant types were called on.

In the year to June 30, neither AFP nor ACIC sought a data disruption warrant, down from two sought and granted in the previous year.

However, three network activity warrants were sought and granted, with an unknown number being extended multiple times – each warrant has a 90-day usage limit.

ACIC had two network activity warrants, while AFP had one. However, there were six extensions granted during the year.

“Network activity warrants authorise access to devices used by members of the criminal network over the life of the warrant, as well as adding, copying, deleting, or altering data to obtain access to data, for the purpose of collecting intelligence on criminal networks operating online,” Home Affairs states on its website.

ACIC characterised its network activity warrants as targeting “serious drug offences, telecommunications offences, money laundering offences, and criminal association and organisations offences”.

AFP used its single warrant to target “serious drug offences, dangerous weapons offences, money laundering offences, and criminal association and organisation offences.”

Of the extensions, AFP noted it used them “to further [its] understanding of the target networks and to allow for technical capabilities, resources, planning and privacy considerations to be assessed properly throughout the operation of the warrant.”

“The AFP reports that these extensions have maximised the opportunities for intelligence collected under network activity warrants to improve operational results and insight into criminal networks targeting Australia,” the disclosure report noted.

Account takeover warrant use continues to be reported in the respective agencies’ annual reports.

Only the AFP used these powers in 2022-23, seeking and receiving [pdf] three account takeover warrants.

There is no mention of usage of these powers in ACIC’s annual report.

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