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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 6026

Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (10:04): Australians and human beings are exchanging more and more information online and that, of course, leads to a greater prevalence of cybercrime. It is a threat to all internet users from businesses to home users, meaning anyone can fall victim to invasion of privacy, theft and deception via the World Wide Web. As a father of two young children, I am one who wishes my kids to grow up having the opportunity to learn from and utilise the internet but I also want to know that when they are doing that they are safe and protected from criminal elements who may seek to prey on vulnerable people. So it is critical that the international community work together to combat this threat.

The facts about cybercrime speak for themselves. In the last six months alone, Australia's computer emergency response team has alerted Australian businesses to more than a quarter of a million pieces of stolen information such as passwords and login details. Cybercrime has already overtaken the drug trade worldwide as the most profitable form of all crimes, and this is simply because of the opportunities that cybercriminals have to steal money, identities and information from unsuspecting victims because there are so many people nowadays using the internet. I quote Nigel Phair, a specialist in cybercrime who worked for more than four years at the Australian High Tech Crime Centre:

With the phenomenal growth of the Internet, cyber crimes have become a matter of national interest … The rapid development of the Internet, with global computer-based commerce and communications that cut across traditional territorial and state boundaries, continue to create a new realm of criminal activities among the cyberspace social, economic and political groupings.

Mr Phair is right about this point. We all have a cause for concern. In 2011 a three-year investigation, known as Operation Rescue, exposed the frightening scale of the challenge before us in the fight against paedophilia and organised crime online. Seven international jurisdictions joined together to act, including Holland, Chile, France, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. That investigation led to the arrest of nearly 200 suspected paedophiles and, thankfully, 230 children were rescued in the process. With figures like that, this parliament and we as a nation must act on cybercrime. The first step is the ascension into the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime. To do this amendments must be made, through the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, the Criminal Code Act and the Telecommunications Act.

The convention serves us as a guide for nations developing a comprehensive national legislation on cybercrime and the convention is the first international treaty on crimes committed via the internet and other computing networks dealing particularly with computer related fraud, child pornography and violations of network security. It criminalises certain types of conduct committed via computer networks and contains a series of powers and procedures such as the search of computer networks and interception. The convention provides systems to facilitate international cooperation between signatory countries, as well as establishing procedures to make investigations more efficient by empowering authorities to request the preservation of specific communications with access subject to a warrant in Australia, helping authorities from one country to collect data in another country, establishing a 24-hour network to provide immediate help to investigators, and facilitating the exchange of information between countries. To date over 40 nations have either signed or become a party to the convention, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and South Africa. Over 100 nations are also using the convention as the basis in their jurisdictions to strengthen their legislation and combat cybercrime.

On 1 March this year the tabling of the national interest analysis by the Minister for Foreign Affairs saw the referral of the question of ratification to the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. As I explained earlier, the best example of why international cooperation can work and has worked was Operation Rescue, with the result, as the Guardian reported in the UK on Wednesday, 16 March 2011, that 60 children had been removed from immediate danger and that police around the world had worked together to shut down what was believed to be the biggest online paedophile ring in the world.

All of the world's online viruses come from overseas. This makes international cooperation all the more important. Recently Kaspersky Lab, an internet security and anti-virus maker, released a report into viruses and malicious software for the first quarter of 2011. It stated that almost 90 per cent of web sources spreading malicious programs were in 10 countries with United States, Russia, the Netherlands and China the main countries of origin.

The Australian government has already taken significant steps to redress cybercrime and related risk. These include establishing a new national computer emergency response team to improve cooperation with the private sector on cybersecurity issues; establishing a cyberpolicy coordinator within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; working with state and territory governments to ensure a nationally coordinated response to cybercrime including consideration of a national online reporting portal; partnering with industry, community and consumer groups to undertake a year round cybersecurity awareness raising initiative; and working with the Internet Industry Association to develop a voluntary internet service provider code. This ISP code provides a consistent approach for ISPs to help inform, educate and protect their customers in relation to cybersecurity issues.

The government welcomed the findings of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties supporting Australia's ascension to the Europe Convention on Cybercrime. The Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 will strengthen cybersecurity laws and enhance Australia's ability to combat international cybercrime. These amendments will ensure that Australian legislation is consistent with international best practice and that Australia is in the best position to address the range of cyberthreats that confront us, both domestically and internationally. I wholeheartedly support the changes contained in this bill. They are a necessary improvement to our defence against the global threat of cybercrime. The changes increase our capacity to fight against this threat on the international stage and augment the armoury of our security and law enforcement agencies to combat these threats at home.

The changes in the bill come about as a result of an extensive inquiry that was conducted by Senate Environment and Communications Committee. I congratulate Senator Bilyk, who chaired that committee, and members of the committee for the thorough investigation that they undertook into the adequacy of laws to deal with cybercrime in our nation. They played a big role in this legislation coming before the parliament.

This approach that the government has taken in respect of the ever-increasing threat of cybercrime gives me, with two young daughters—and all other parents throughout the country—greater protection from the worst elements of cybercrime and provides greater comfort for parents regarding the use of the internet by their children. The approach gives me added confidence that, when we turn on the computer at home, my kids, like so many other children across the country, can be safe from the sorts of attacks that we all hope will never happen to loved ones and that were pointed out by Senator Xenophon. I am pleased to support this bill.