Services Australia is sharing their cybersecurity technology, specifically password-cracking tools, with the Department of Education and other unidentified agencies. The goal? Investigate and eliminate potential instances of fraud.
Interdepartmental Support for Fraud Prevention
Cracking down on criminal activities that exploit financial aid schemes and subsidies is no small task. People committing these offences often navigate through multiple payment systems. For instance, they might be tapping into funds from the Education Department or the National Disability Insurance Agency. This collaborative effort using a device known as Cellebrite ensures a thorough and comprehensive investigation process.
Cellebrite: The Tech Behind the Curtain
Cellebrite, a Universal Forensic Extraction Device, has been leveraged by the Department of Education three times since 2018 to uncover high-end fraudulent activities. By extracting information from suspects’ phones, they’ve been able to expose fraudulent claims for childcare subsidies, significantly enhancing prosecution efforts.
Ethical and Legal Queries
The use of Cellebrite raised many questions, particularly about its alignment with an international agreement on strict control of commercial spyware. Deputy CEO Chris Birner of Services Australia reiterated the legitimacy of Cellebrite as an investigation and law enforcement tool, not merely commercial spyware. It’s only used to investigate “serious non-compliance,” leaving general compliance issues untouched.
Setting Boundaries for Investigations
The distinction between “serious non-compliance” and “general customer compliance issues” was made clear. The former indicates a criminal investigation that might result in legal action, while the latter is a simple eligibility check for the right payment at the right time.
After the Investigation: Data Retention and Usage
On the topic of data retention post-investigation, Services Australia committed to reviewing this, dependent on the specific evidence and instances at hand. The possibility of using this data for other compliance activities is also under consideration, subject to legal and ethical constraints.
Investigative journalist Anthony Lowenstein uncovered that Cellebrite has featured in 128 contracts with Australian government agencies since 2011. Other beneficiaries of this technology include Australian Border Force, the Australian Tax Office, and Sports Integrity Australia, underlining its extensive use for reinforcing public security and fairness.