Facing intense political heat in India, Twitter has raised an alarm at an upcoming surveillance bill in Australia that has proposed a new account takeover warrant which, if passed, will let law enforcement agencies take control of a person’s online account for the purposes of gathering evidence about serious offences.
The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 would hand over three new warrants to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) to deal with online crime on social media platforms.
The Surveillance Bill contains three new types of warrants — Data Disruption Warrants, Network Activity Warrants and Account Takeover Warrants.
Twitter, however, is more concerned about the account takeover warrant and in its reply to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) review into the Surveillance Bill 2020, the micro-blogging platform said the proposed computer warrants are “antithetical” to democratic law.
“Twitter is concerned that the proposed Bill will allow law enforcement direct access to data regardless of the location of the server, without requiring knowledge of such access being provided to the service provider, and in the case of Account Takeover Warrants, absent the agreement of an appropriate consenting official of the relevant foreign country where the warrant would be enforced,” the company elaborated in its reply.
According to the company, the account takeover warrants pose sweeping expansions to surveillance powers and covert activities that “could impact Twitter’s platform and operations inside and outside of Australia”.
A law enforcement officer would be authorised to take control of one or more accounts and access account-based data in addition to adding, copying, deleting, or altering account credentials.
The Department of Home Affairs has confirmed that an account takeover warrant is designed to be used in circumstances where law enforcement officers have a person’s account credentials, but the person has not given his or her permission for law enforcement to use the account.
According to the Australian government, “the account takeover power will allow officers to take over online accounts and gather evidence about a person’s online criminality and their associate’s activity. Through the new account takeover warrant, AFP and ACIC will be authorised to take control of a person’s online account to gather evidence leading to prosecutions of a serious offence”.
Twitter said that this again raises a number of inherent privacy concerns and potential violations of substantive rights, as well as potential conflict of laws if these third-party users are outside of Australia.
“As currently written, the Account Takeover Warrant would be divorced from standard due process requirements. It would be antithetical to core legal principles enshrined in democratic law and procedural fairness,” Twitter argued.
In its latest Transparency Report, Twitter saw global governments and law enforcement agencies submit approximately 44 per cent more information requests (combined emergency and routine requests) compared to the previous reporting period.
Twitter has received government information requests from 93 different countries since 2012 when it first began compiling and publishing its Transparency Report.
In India, the Supreme Court last week issued a notice to the Centre and Twitter on a plea seeking a mechanism to check content on Twitter spreading hatred through fake news and instigative content through bogus accounts.
Earlier, the micro-blogging platform either withheld or suspended at least 90-95 per cent accounts as directed by the IT Ministry in two separate notices.
The company was asked by the IT Ministry to block nearly 1,435 accounts in the wake of the farmers’ protests.