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The Australian Federal Police has called for its officers to be granted greater "protections" in case they inadvertently breach international laws while performing covert cyber operations.
In a submission response to the Government's cyber white paper [pdf], the AFP noted increased pressure in cyber crime investigations to find alternate ways to obtain data outside of mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs).
The treaties between countries are meant to govern the exchange of information between authorities to aid criminal investigations.
However, the AFP suggested mutual assistance rules are outdated and too slow to aid fast-moving cyber crime cases, leading officers to seek ways to circumvent the treaties.
"Trusted countries tend to establish particular procedures for which they are prepared to obtain and exchange data quickly and effectively outside the usual MLAT process," the AFP said.
"However, the internet works across all countries, not just so-called trusted ones".
One way of circumventing the treaties, the AFP speculated, could be to allow law enforcement agencies - with agreement from a host country - to "reach in and electronically extract evidence and seize information if a criminal group is operating in their jurisdiction".
In any event, the AFP sought the Government's consideration of beefed-up "international protections" for officers that worked outside of the treaties to gain evidence to support domestic prosecutions.
"It is imperative that some protection is established to cover law enforcement officers who may act contrary to foreign law while conducting lawful operations in their home jurisdiction (the protections provided differ across international jurisdictions)," the AFP said.
"Police operate covertly in the on-line environment and in many instances the suspect they arecommunicating with is not in their physical jurisdiction.
"We need to ensure that those officers acting in good faith do not unintentionally break the laws of a third country. International protections need to be considered."
The AFP noted that Federal Government plans to accede to an international cybercrime treaty could lead to "significant benefits" in cross-border cooperation. Over 40 nations are party to that treaty.
In its submission, the AFP noted it had recently implemented mandatory training for all staff to increase awareness of cyber crime and knowledge of online tools that could aid investigations.
It also said that development is underway of a 'high end' cyber investigator course. "We will deliver the first program before the end of the 2011/12 financial year," the AFP said.
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