Australia

ASIO would 'immediately' use new encryption powers to target terror, says spy chief

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The heads of Australia’s intelligence agencies are facing questioning at Parliament House over the government’s sweeping encryption reforms

The director of ASIO, Australia’s domestic spy agency, says his intelligence officers would “immediately” move to take advantage of new encryption laws  when they pass the parliament.

The security agencies were called to Parliament House for extra hearings after the Morrison government said it wanted to accelerate the passage of the laws before the Christmas break, pulling them out of a bipartisan committee process.

Director General of ASIO Duncan Lewis appears at a Senate estimates hearing at Parliament House.
Director General of ASIO Duncan Lewis appears at a Senate estimates hearing at Parliament House.
AAP

“I anticipate ASIO would immediately use this legislation if it were available,” Duncan Lewis told the committee.

Liberal chair Andrew Hastie asked the director if there was an “operational urgency” to pass the laws.

“Without question,” Mr Lewis responded.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets with counter terrorism chiefs in Parliament House.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets with counter terrorism chiefs in Parliament House.
AAP

The ASIO chief went on to outline how security agencies faced an annual spike in terror threats around the Christmas holidays, describing the period as a “high point” on the calendar.

Mr Lewis was asked if there was a specific urgency this year, but said he did not have a view on that. He said his agency would generally like to see the laws passed as soon as possible.

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