PARRAMATTA, NSW, Australia -- In a move sure to result in shockwaves of protest from Down Under to around the globe, police in New South Wales may be given authority to search homes and hack into people's computers for as long as three years without their knowledge.
The Australian government has already enacted similar practices, though its Supreme Court ruled such searches illegal in 2006.
New legislation to expand investigative powers was introduced last week in the Australia Parliament by Minister Nathan Rees. The measures allow police to apply for cover search warrants in order to gather evidence in what are deemed as serious crimes, according to ZDNet.
The laws allow for the search of computers and computers networks related to the site of a search. Rees said police will be allowed remote access to computers for five days up to a total of 28 days, with possible extended periods beyond that time, depending on an investigation.
"This could include cracking codes and searching computers for evidence of child porn, drug running and money laundering," he said.
Critics are calling the legislation much too broad, but law enforcement insists secrecy will keep criminals in the dark.
Police Minister Tony Kelly explained each application must go before a Supreme Court judge, who would initially OK secret investigations for as long as six months, but police could apply for delays as long as 18 months and even three years, pending the nature of the case.
"For particularly anybody who's involved in crime or criminal activity, the police will now be able to undertake investigations and gather evidence before you know it," Kelly said. "So anybody who's involved in serious crime, the police will now be able to get on to you, even go into your computer."
Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman is among those opposing the law, reports ABC.net
"Clearly, if the police are able to search a person's home without anyone being present, the police will be in the position to plant evidence," O'Gorman said. "That's a big worry. This particular announcement extends police powers hugely without putting in any checks and balances against those powers being abused."
The laws will apply to offences punishable by at least seven years in jail, including statutes applying to homicide, kidnapping, assault, drugs, firearms, money laundering, hacking, organized theft and corruption.
The move follows similar legislative attempts in Europe and the U.K., CNET reports, to broaden the investigative powers of regional law enforcement organizations.