Recent legislation introduced by the Federal parliament will automatically terminate Australian citizenship for multinationals if convicted of certain offences. This includes hacking offences, introducing viruses into a Commonwealth computer, or the unauthorised modification of information within a public authority’s network.
On 24 June 2015, the Federal parliament introduced the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 (Cth) to parliament “to provide explicit powers for the cessation of Australian citizenship in specified circumstances where a dual citizen engages in terrorism-related conduct”.
Schedule 1 of the Bill proposes to insert a new s 35A into the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth). The section specifies that if an Australian, who is also a citizen of another country, is convicted of an offence described in s 35A(3), then that person will “cease to be an Australian citizen at the time of the conviction”. Previously, this stripping of citizenship could only be done if you actually served in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia, or by limited circumstances at the discretion of the Minister (see Pt 2 Div 3 of the Citizenship Act).
Section 29 of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) (referred to by s 35A(3)(e) of the proposed provisions) provides that:
Any person who intentionally destroys or damages any property, whether real or personal, belonging to the Commonwealth or to any public authority under the Commonwealth, shall be guilty of an offence.
This “damage” includes terrorist acts such as blowing up a bridge or sabotaging a nuclear reactor, but it also covers smaller acts like dropping a public official’s work phone into a river, or spray painting angry messages onto a government building. This “damage” is not even restricted to physical property but also includes a range of computer-related offences as well.
Damage to property does not require “permanent derangement” of the property but can amount to even temporary impairment of the item’s utility (see Griffiths v Morgan  Tas SR 279). So erasing a computer disk (as in Cox v Riley (1986) 83 Cr App R 54) or introducing a virus into a computer system would fall within the definition of “damage” to property.
In Australian law, the unauthorised modification or impairment of data is an offence (see Pt 10.7 of the Criminal Code (Cth)). These are indictable offences generally punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment. Modifying data without authorisation (ie by altering or removing it) or impairing the access to, reliability of, or operation of such computer data is considered “damage”. So sneaking over the desk in a Centrelink office to (without authorisation) approve your own application could see you stripped of your citizenship, if you happen to be a dual citizen.
Some popular culture still depicts hackers as Internet vigilantes. But hacking, viruses and acts of cyberwarfare can lead to serious damage, as the Stuxnet virus demonstrated when it was discovered in 2010 in the Iranian Natanz nuclear enrichment facility. Not only can the hacker be punished by 10 years in prison if discovered, but they could also have their citizenship revoked.
What do you think? Is introducing a virus into a Commonwealth system equivalent to a terrorist offence? Does this Act go too far or not far enough? Let us know in the comments below.
Computer-related crimes and damage to property are discussed in the updated The Laws of Australia Subtitle 10.5 “Interference with Property”.
For more information about The Laws of Australia click here.