CANBERRA, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- The Australian government will consider enlisting the nation's cyber intelligence agency to track down online paedophiles, terrorists and other serious criminals.
Under current legislation, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) can only disrupt and destroy off-shore criminal cyber activity.
If the agency encounters online criminal activity happening within Australia it must stop work immediately and defer to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), which has limited cyber capabilities.
Under a proposal being considered by Peter Dutton, the minister for home affairs, those restrictions would be relaxed allowing domestic agencies to enlist the ASD in a crackdown on domestic cyber criminals.
"At the moment, if there is a server in Sydney that has images of a five- or six-month-old child being sexually exploited and tortured, then that may not be discoverable, particularly if it's encrypted and protected to a point where the AFP or the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) can't gain access to that server," Dutton told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"It can be a different picture if that server is offshore, so there is an anomaly that exists at the moment.
"What I think is that there should be a public debate about whether we think it's acceptable for our society to tolerate the presence of these criminal networks right next door to us and yet we have no ability to do anything about it."
The AFP received 17,000 tips for online child exploitation material in 2019 compared to 300 in 2009.
Dutton, whose home affairs department consists of Australia's national law enforcement, security and criminal justice agencies, has previously complained that the ASD is too limited within Australia.
He said that potential changes to the ASD's remit would give agents the power to conduct online search warrants similar to those undertaken by police.
"I want to make sure that if the police can get a warrant from a court and go to a paedophile's house and search that house for material (that) we have the same power to do that in the online life of that paedophile. Nothing more, nothing less," he said.