news The Federal Parliament has rejected a number of requests from interested parties to extend the short deadline for submissions to an inquiry 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.
On July 9 this year, 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 – a window for submissions of only one month.
Subsequently, the Australian division of the Pirate Party wrote to the committee secretariat requesting an extension of the deadline, noting that “given the gravity, complexity and sheer volume of proposals and implications arising from the proposals, the window of a mere month for public comment and submissions to the Inquiry is far too small for any meaningful or considered response to the Terms of Reference.”
According to emails since published by the Pirate Party, the committee secretariat immediately wrote back denying any deadline extension.
“The Committee appreciates your interest in the inquiry and would welcome a submission from you,” wrote committee secretary Jerome Brown to the Pirate Party. “I regret to advise, however, that your request for an extension to 30 September 2012 to lodge a submission cannot be accommodated. Should you wish to make a contribution, the Committee encourages you to lodge a submission by the due date so that the members can have the benefit of your views on the proposed reforms, along with those of other interested parties. If you are unable to lodge a submission by 6 August, the Committee may still consider submissions presented shortly after this date.”
Pressed on the matter, Brown acknowledged the committee had received a number of emails written in identical terms – all requesting a 30 September extension.
“The Committee hopes to report by the end of the calendar year and, in order to achieve this, will need to press ahead with analysing submissions, conducting any hearings, preparing its report and so on. The Committee would naturally prefer to allow submitters more time, but unfortunately this isn’t possible on this occasion,” he added. “It is also preferable that all submitters, or at least as many as possible, have their submissions lodged at the same time so that all views on specific issues can properly be taken account of as they are examined.”
Pirate Party Australia secretary Brendan Molloy wrote back to Brown, taking issue with the committee’s approach.
“Considering this report will likely end in a recommendation to modify existing legislation significantly beyond the current provisions, in ways that will affect the day to day lives of every single citizen, I think it is cavalier to expect that a reasoned, responsible and considered analysis could be completed in such a short time frame,” he wrote.
“Something worth considering is that more time is currently being spent on a copyright review than this entire national security review, while the impact of this review will have much larger consequences than the worst possible outcome of a copyright review. If the committee truly cares about the public input on matters that will certainly affect them, now would be the time to do the responsible thing and extend the deadline for your report, and give more time for a reasoned response from all Australians.”
the proposed reforms have already attracted significant criticism from the Government’s parliamentary partner, the Greens. In a statement issued last week, 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.”
One month is a ridiculously short amount of time for the Australian public to respond to this extremely wide-ranging inquiry. As I wrote last week:
“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.”