House of Representatives

Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011

Second Reading Speech

Senator Carr (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research)

The Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 makes amendments to facilitate Australia's accession to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime.

The Convention is the only binding international treaty on cybercrime.

The Government announced its intention to accede to the Convention in April 2010. To date, over 40 nations have either signed or become a party to the Convention, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and South Africa.

Cybercrime poses a significant challenge for our law enforcement and criminal justice system.

The global and interconnected nature of the internet makes it easy for malicious actors to operate from abroad, especially from those countries where regulations and enforcement arrangements are weak. For this reason, it is critical that laws designed to combat cyber threats are harmonised, or at least compatible to allow for international cooperation.

The Convention serves as a guide for nations developing comprehensive national legislation on cybercrime and also establishes procedures to make investigations more efficient and provides systems to facilitate international co-operation, including:

empowering authorities to request the preservation of specific communications;
helping authorities from one country to collect data in another country;
establishing a 24/7 network to provide immediate help to investigators; and
facilitating the exchange of information.

The Convention requires Parties to criminalise certain types of conduct committed via the internet and other computer networks and ensure domestic agencies can access and share information to facilitate international investigations.

As such, the Convention will help Australian agencies to better prevent, detect and prosecute cyber intrusions and criminal activity conducted over the internet.

Australian law already complies with a majority of the obligations of the Convention. In particular, jurisdictions in Australia have created relevant offences and have provided agencies with many of the powers and procedures required by the Convention.

However, accession to the Convention will require amendments to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987, the Criminal Code Act 1995 and the Telecommunications Act 1997 to enhance Australia's ability to effectively combat cyber crime.


Preservation of Stored Communications

Schedule 1 implements requirements of the Convention to establish powers for agencies to obtain the preservation of stored communications for up to 90 days, particularly where there are grounds to believe that the data is vulnerable to loss or modification.

The purpose of the preservation period is to maintain the integrity of the data for a period of time to enable agencies to seek its disclosure through a relevant warrant.

These amendments are necessary as carriers' business practices include the deletion of communications often before agencies have the opportunity to exercise a warrant for their access, in the case of one carrier within 24 hours of a message's creation. It also formalises voluntary arrangements that already exist with some carriers who will hold communication records pending receipt of a warrant.

Accordingly, the Bill amends the TIA Act so that an agency can formally require a carrier to preserve stored communications by reference to an individual or telecommunications service. This approach enables the preservation of computer data, but also SMS messages, emails and other communications stored by the carrier while ensuring the TIA Act remains technologically neutral.

The Bill will also enable designated interception agencies to require carriers to preserve ongoing communications in respect to an individual or service for up to 30 days. Again, these communications can only be accessed by a designated interception agency upon the grant of a valid warrant.

The Bill will enable the Australian Federal Police to require the preservation of communications on behalf of a foreign law enforcement agency. Once again, however, the content of those preserved communications can only be accessed following authorisation of a stored communications warrant under a formal mutual assistance request for a serious foreign contravention. This is an offence carrying a penalty of either 3 years' imprisonment or a fine of approximately $99,000.

There are a number of important protections in the Bill, including:

Agencies can only access preserved communications from a carrier with a relevant warrant.
Preservation is only available to investigate a 'serious contravention' (defined as an offence carrying 3 years' imprisonment, a $19 800 fine for individuals, and a $99 000 for non-individuals) or for obtaining intelligence relating to security defined under the ASIO Act as relating to espionage, terrorism, foreign interference and border integrity.
In each case a number of tests must be satisfied, such as balancing privacy considerations and determining that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the carrier holds the relevant communications and that information obtained would likely assist in its investigation.
Domestic notices are revoked automatically after 90 days. They must also be revoked by the agency if before that point the agency is no longer satisfied the grounds for issuing the notice exist.
Notices with respect to the preservation of ongoing communications are only available for up to 30 days.
Agencies will be required to report on the number of preservation notices issued and keep copies of those notices.
Use of preservation powers by agencies will be subject to oversight by theCommonwealth Ombudsmen and the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS).

International Cooperation

Schedule 2 of the Bill amends the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act

1979 and the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987 to allow the AFP to assist foreign partners by accessing communications data on a police-to-police basis. Communications data relates to information about a communication, rather than the content of the communication itself. This is often important information which can reveal a target has Australian accounts, has been involved with known Australian suspects or has connections or associations with known criminal groups.

The Bill will also enable Australia to provide non-content data on an ongoing basis to a foreign country following a formal mutual assistance request. Particular safeguards with respect to providing information pursuant to a mutual assistance request will also apply. These tools will further assist in the investigation of international cyber crime.

In order to ensure full compliance with Article 15 of the Convention, which deals with the protection of civil liberties, the Bill also introduces a new requirement in the TIA Act to protect privacy. This will require agencies to specifically consider the privacy of affected parties before authorising the disclosure of telecommunications data.

The requirement to consider privacy will apply to any authorisation for any domestic or foreign purpose. Privacy in this context, is interpreted more broadly than in the Privacy Act 1988, and will include consideration of the amount of information that the authorisation will make available to the agency, the relevance of the accessed information to the investigation in question, as well as how a third party's privacy may be impacted by the information.

The reforms contained in Schedule 2 were released for public comment by the Government in January 2011 in respect to the Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Amendment Bill.

Amendments to the Criminal Code

Computer crimes in Australia are set out in Commonwealth as well as State and Territory law.

Commonwealth offences are currently limited to circumstances in which a carriage service has been used or Commonwealth computers or data are involved in the commission of an offence. For situations not covered by Commonwealth laws, State and Territory offences are used.

In order to ensure full compliance with Convention requirements, the Criminal Code will be amended to remove the current limitations on Commonwealth computer offences. The amended offences will be supported by the external affairs power. In the event of any inconsistency between Commonwealth and State or Territory laws, the savings provisions contained in the Criminal Code will ensure the validity of the State or Territory law.


In April 2010, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I jointly announced Australia's intention to accede to the Convention. On 17 February 2011, the Attorney-General's Department released a public discussion paper in relation to Australia's proposed accession.

Submissions were received from representatives of the telecommunications industry, State Governments, the Office of the Information Commissioner as well as privacy and civil liberties groups.

The majority of submissions supported accession.

After the tabling of the National Interest Analysis by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 1 March 2011, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties considered Australia's proposed accession. JSCOT tabled its report supporting Australia's accession to the Convention on 11 May 2011. The Committee agreed that cybercrime is a growing threat at a time when computer-based networks are the most vital means of communicating and doing business.


The increasing cyber crime threat means that no nation alone can effectively overcome this problem and international cooperation is essential.

Australia must have appropriate arrangements domestically and internationally to be in the best possible position to fight cyber crime.

This Bill will facilitate Australia's accession to the Cybercrime convention and improve our ability to cooperate internationally in combating cyber crime.