Law change will give spy agency unprecedented powers, Greens warn

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The Australian Greens have warned that a bill granting ASIO additional authority to intercept communications on behalf of other government agencies gives the spy agency too much power.

The Greens legal affairs and communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam said the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Privacy Foundation were among groups raising grave concerns about the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Act 2010.

"As well as enabling ASIO to intercept communications on behalf of other agencies, this amendment will force carriers and service providers to inform ASIO of any changes to the way they run their business that may affect the extent to which ASIO can intercept communications," he said.

Senator Ludlam said in addition to relaxing the restrictions on when ASIO can share information with other government agencies, the amendment also allows ASIO to provide resources and personnel to assist other agencies in carrying out work that has nothing to do with ASIO's own functions.

"ASIO will be able to be brought in by any other agency to investigate virtually anything at all. The Law Council warned that ASIO ‘should not be regarded as a mercenary force available on request'," he said. "ASIO argues that secrecy is necessary for the kind of work that it does, and it is for that reason that we do not want to expand the mandate of ASIO into areas like tax law or welfare law."

Senator Ludlam said the proposed information-sharing between ASIO and any State or Commonwealth agency was not restricted to material related to criminal activity.

"It does not have to relate to crime or crime prevention. For the information to be given to other agencies, the Director General of ASIO will just need to be of the opinion that the national interest requires that the information be shared," he said.