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Brandis pushes for expanded ASIO powers and data retention laws

​The Attorney-General has introduced a new bill to give ASIO greater surveillance powers, adding that data retention laws are also "under active consideration".

George Brandis Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Australia's national security agency is set to gain more powers to gather digital information on Australian citizens deemed to be a security risk, with the introduction of a new bill targeted at cracking down on terrorism.

Under these changes, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation will now be able to use third party computers to access the "target computer" of a suspect, while a single warrant will be able to be used to access a whole network of computers, rather than a single device.

Attorney-General Senator George Brandis introduced the bill to the Senate yesterday, saying the threat of terrorism in Australia is "real and undiminished" and law enforcement needs to be able to keep up with new technologies used by terrorists.

"Rapid developments in information and communications technology, particularly in the online environment, have led to its increased use in activities of security concern," Brandis said. "Terrorist groups and individuals are becoming sophisticated in their use of technology to organise themselves and evade detection."

The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill outlines a raft of changes to ASIO powers, including changes to computer access warrants "enabling ASIO to use a third party's computer to access data in a target computer; and amending the definition of 'computer' to include multiple computers, systems and networks".

Jail terms have also been increased to respond to breaches by Snowden-esque "trusted insiders" from 2 years to 10 years.

While Brandis' discussion of the bill was couched in terms of terrorist activities and the radicalisation of Australian citizens in conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the spectre of government retention of metadata also loomed over debate.

According to Brandis, introducing new powers on data retention is "very much the way in which western nations are going", and while the Federal Government has not yet made a decision on this front, he said "it is true that it is under active consideration".

Speaking alongside Brandis, the head of ASIO David Irvine reiterated the importance of retaining Australians' digital data as a weapon in the organisation's arsenal.

"Almost every ASIO investigation and a very large number of law enforcement investigations depend, at least in the first instance, on access to retained data," he said.