news The Federal Parliament has kicked off a review of and is seeking public submissions into a wide-reaching package of legislative reforms proposed by the Federal Government which the Greens have slammed as constituting a “systematic erosion of privacy” in Australia.
The package of reforms which are being promulgated by the Federal Attorney-General’s Department include a number of modifications to four pieces of legislation; The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, the Telecommunications Act, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act and the Intelligence Services Act. Information released by the Attorney-General’s Department suggests that that the changes are extremely wide-reaching. For example, the Government is seeking to modify aspects of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act that relate to the legislation’s privacy protection clauses, tests for issuing warrants, oversight arrangements and information sharing provisions between agencies, for a start.
Instead of law enforcement agencies being forced to request multiple different types of interception warrants, the legislation would be modified to allow authorities to request a new more comprehensive centralised type of warrant with multiple powers. The interception regime — which allows authorities to request Internet service providers and telcos to intercept the communications of their customers — would be extended to some types of service providers not currently covered by the legislation.
Provisions under the ASIO Act for the intelligence agency to request warrants are to be modernised and streamlined, and the agency is to gain the power to disrupt a target computer for the purposes of accessing the information on it — or even to access other third-party computers on the way to the target machine. The Government is also interested in establishing an offence which would allow Australians to be charged with failing to assist in decrypting encrypted communications.
Also on the cards is a data retention protocol which would require ISPs, for example, to retain data on their customers for up to two years. This is an idea which has proven controversial in Australia over the past several years.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is to examine the proposed reforms, noted it had consented to commence an inquiry into the package, and was requesting submissions from the public into the package until 6 August this year.
The chair of the committee, Labor MP Anthony Byrne MP, welcomed the referral of the inquiry by AGD, stating: “It is vital that our security laws keep pace with the rapid developments in technology”. Commenting on the importance of public input into the Parliament’s examination of the potential reforms, Byrne said the Committee’s inquiry will give the public an opportunity to have a say in the development of new laws in the critical area of national security.
AGD has published an extensive discussion paper on the proposed reforms, which is available here in PDF format. The committee’s terms of reference for its inquiry are also available online.
However, the proposed reforms have already attracted significant criticism from the Government’s parliamentary partner, the Greens. In a statement issued today, Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam warned the package of reforms would further expand already pervasive government surveillance powers.
“The Australian Greens will make a submission setting out our belief that Australians have a right to privacy online,” said Ludlam. “Anyone who cares about the systematic erosion of privacy should also make their voices heard through getting their submissions in by the August 6th deadline. This inquiry will likely be used to again expand the powers of spy agencies when Australians are already under a phenomenal amount of government surveillance.
Ludlam pointed out that nearly a quarter of a million telecommunications data requests were granted in 2010-11 according to the annual Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act report. “This includes detailed locational data logged by every smartphone, every minute of the day,” Ludlam wrote.
“The data retention scheme – #ozlog – long-pushed by the Attorney-General’s Department is on the agenda. This extreme proposal is based on the notion that all our personal data should be stored by service providers so that every move we make can be surveilled or recalled for later data mining. It comes from a mindset that imagines all Australians as potential criminal suspects, or mindless consumer drones whose every transaction should be recorded and mapped.”
Ludlam said the review should look to expand inadequate privacy protections. “We also need to see much tighter restrictions on how ASIO collaborates with the private sector, after the revelations in April that Commonwealth resources were being deployed to spy on environmental campaigners at the behest of the coal industry, and with the Federal Police contracting a private company to spy on civil society groups,” he said.
“In regards to the telecommunications interception – we need to see much stronger safeguards on when interceptions can be carried out and on which agencies can execute them.”
In my opinion, a number of these legislative reforms are the nightmarish stuff that George Orwell’s extremely prescient book 1984 are made of.
Any one of the proposals in this huge surveillance package which the Attorney-General’s Department has proposed could be the subject of its own independent inquiry. Data retention, mandatory decryption of private data, the ability to remotely penetrate computer systems (even unrelated systems) to gain access to evidence … it’s all fairly Orwellian, and it’s all in this package. This whole process needs to be as public as possible. If you are at all interested in protecting your own privacy or even just preventing the Government from being automatically able to see whatever information it wants at any time about any Australian citizen without due cause and process, I recommend you get involved in this process and make a submission to this inquiry.
In addition, I recommend you contact your local MP about this matter, as this is a package which is sadly likely to be supported by both sides of Parliament — it is extremely unlikely that the Greens or the Independents will be able to block it.