Proposed new amendments could see two federal law enforcement agencies gain extra powers to tackle crime on the dark web, but privacy advocates are concerned the new powers are invasive.
The bill, introduced to Parliament by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, aims to provide the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission with new powers to combat serious online crime, amending previous surveillance legislation.
Three new powers would be granted to the two agencies, if the bill is passed, giving them the ability to obtain warrants to disrupt data, monitor network activity and to covertly take control of online accounts.
"Cyber-enabled serious and organised crime, often enabled by the dark web and other anonymising technologies, such as bespoke encrypted devices for criminal use, present a direct challenge to community safety and the rule of law," the bill's explanatory document read.
"Without the critical first step of being able to identify potential offenders, investigations into serious and organised criminality can fall at the first hurdle."
But Lucie Krahulcova, a director at privacy rights advocate group Digital Rights Watch, said Australians should be concerned about the bill as it could lead to further rights being impinged.
"The ability to takeover personal online accounts is incredibly invasive - online services are interconnected and there's really no limit to what can be learned about an individual," Ms Krahulcova said.
"Measures like this can be existential to the freedoms and liberties in a democratic society and must be subject to public and Parliamentary scrutiny."
While the bill does specify warrants are required in order for the agencies to undertake these powers, it also outlines the agencies could use them under an emergency authorisation too.
These emergency authorisations would apply when there is imminent risk of serious violence or substantial property damage and where evidence is at risk of being lost.
Ms Krahulcova said warrants were an important legal standard and including emergency authorisations in the bill lowers that standard.
"There's no doubt that the same types of criminal activity that always existed offline, now continue to exist online," Ms Krahulcova said.
"The agencies are frustrated and they want to be able to conduct investigations online, but that comes with a different set of rules, and it must come with a different set of safeguards to protect people's right to privacy - a right that exists under international law, but in Australia remains seen as an inconvenience."
Ms Krahulcova agreed there might be circumstances where these sorts of powers are needed for law enforcement agencies but said it shouldn't be without first having a rights-based framework.
A warrant was a non-negotiable, according to Ms Krahulcova. Instead, she believed the bill should be referred to a parliamentary committee to further discuss its merit.
"There should be no exception to when warrants are required, for any of these measures," Ms Krahulcova said.
"Network activity warrants and account takeover warrants require a lot of work, including tighter time limits, data deletion requirements and an explicit necessity and proportionality test for each warrant.
"I think there are also ethical concerns that merit an elaborate discussion by the [Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security]."