Cybercrime is a growing threat as we exchange more and more information online. Cybercrime has already overtaken the drug trade worldwide as the most profitable form of all crimes due to the opportunities that cybercriminals have to steal money, identities and information from unsuspecting victims, causing it to become a matter of national interest.

On 22 August, the Australian Senate passed the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 (“Bill”) which is aimed at strengthening Australia’s cyber security laws. The Bill sets the legislative framework to enable Australia to join 34 other nations and ascend into the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, the only binding international treaty on cybercrime.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon says the Bill will “help combat criminal offences relating to forgery, fraud, child pornography and the infringement of copyright and intellectual property”.

The Bill amends the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, the Criminal Code Act, and the Telecommunications Act.

The main changes include:

  • Preservation – allows law enforcement agencies to compel telcos and ISPs to retain data records of people suspected of cyber-based crimes, including fraud and child pornography. Data records include web-browsing history, social media activity, emails, and SMS messages. The law enforcement agencies will be prevented from seeing the information until they have secured a warrant.
  • Mutual assistance – provides foreign countries access to Australian preserved computer data in the investigation of cybercrime and crimes committed using the internet pursuant to a stored communication warrant and vice versa.
  • Cybercrime offences – expands the scope of existing Commonwealth computer offences and creates confidentiality requirements in relation to authorisations to disclose telecommunications data.

Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has raised concerns about stored data being given to foreign countries for use in criminal cases involving the death penalty.

In the amended Bill, the Senate addressed 12 of the 13 recommendations by the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety. The only recommendation that was not considered related to the removal of the exemption of small internet service providers from the Privacy Act. This will likely be addressed as part of the government’s second stage response to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2008 report on privacy.

The amended Bill will go back to the lower house for approval.