“Get a warrant”:
Ludlam net privacy bill lands in Senate



news Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam has introduced legislation that would see Australian law enforcement agencies blocked from obtaining access to telecommunications records without a warrant; but it is not immediately clear if either of the major parties are prepared to support the bill.

In a speech to the Senate yesterday with reference to the bill, Ludlam pointed out that currently Australian law enforcement agencies were able to access vast amounts of private data without getting a warrant, including data pertaining to telephone calls, emails, Internet access and the geographical location of mobile telephones. You can download the bill and an associated explanatory memorandum in Word format.

The use of this information is currently skyrocketing in such law enforcement organisations. According to the latest Telecommunications Interceptions and Access Act (TIA) annual report, Australian law enforcement agencies were granted access to personal information about Australians 293,501 times throughout the 2011-12 year, without obtaining a warrant or having any judicial oversight.

Ludlam stipulated that the bill as introduced would not prevent law enforcement and intelligence agencies from accessing material in order to carry out their functions; it would merely require that they obtain a warrant before being able to access such information.

“A member of the judiciary, a recognised cornerstone of democracy and the rule of law, will be required to provide independent and informed oversight of the use of coercive or invasive powers,” said Ludlam. “Requests by ASIO will be required to obtain a warrant from the Attorney General.”

According to Ludlam, the use of warrants — which is still mandatory in many other areas of law enforcement — not only protected citizens from “the abuse of power” by the Government, but also provided “legitimacy and authority” to police or intelligence agencies carrying out their functions, by ensuring that their actions are both “necessary and proportional”.

“While it is the government’s role to promote collective protection against identity theft, online crime and acts of political violence, Australian citizens have a legitimate expectation that the government will defend their democratic right to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom from arbitrary acts of state surveillance or coercion,” Ludlam said.

Much of the way the current telecommunications regime functions dates back to when governments globally were more concerned regarding the threat of terrorism, in the wake of the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. However, a number of the powers enacted throughout that period have not been rolled back.

“The Greens believe that changes made to the Telecommunications Act and the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act (TIA) in 2007 to normalise warrantless surveillance, radically and unnecessarily privileged national security concerns over the privacy and civil liberties of Australians,” said Ludlam. “This Bill reinstates the balance between national security and privacy and treats Australians as citizens first with basic rights and protections, and not merely suspects.”

“In May 2013 the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor concluded that several of the 80 hastily made changes to Australian law after the events of September 11 were not effective, appropriate or necessary. The scope and reach of the laws were unprecedented, and included extraordinary powers of surveillance, detention and restriction and censorship on speech.”

“Given that Australia’s security agencies and police forces have been deployed against targets that fall well beyond threats to national security such as climate change demonstrators, the occupy movement, anti-whaling campaigners and supporters of the WikiLeaks publishing organization, the lines between terrorism, civil disobedience and healthy dissent are being routinely blurred,” Ludlam said. “This Bill seeks to ensure that Australians are protected from indiscriminate monitoring by law enforcement agencies.”

“The Australian Greens strongly support the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) recommendation that the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act (TIA) be reviewed in its entirety. Until an Australian government has the sense to implement the ALRC’s recommendation, the TIA must be amended piecemeal, such as with this Bill, in an effort to return Australian law enforcement procedures to protecting the hard-won rights fundamental to a liberal democracy.”

It is currently unclear whether either major side of politics — Labor or the Coalition — would be inclined to support the legislation. Delimiter has requested comment on the issue from the offices of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

However, there are indications that there is little desire amongst either party for increased controls to be placed on law enforcement use of telecommunications data without warrants.

For example, last week Australia’s Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus made the declaration that Australian law enforcement in Australia “would grind to a halt” if police officers and other law enforcement agents were forced to apply for a warrant every time they wanted to access Australians’ telecommunications data.

Speaking on the ABC’s 7:30 program at the time, Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus rejected calls for warrants on telecommunications data to be re-introduced. “To require a warrant for every time, and it’s in the thousands, the mini thousands, of times that a law enforcement agency accesses this non contact telecommunications data would mean I think that law enforcement in Australia would grind to a halt,” Dreyfus said.

Although some elements of the Coalition, such as Turnbull, have expressed concerns about some planned aspects of the national telecommunications interception regime, such as Labor’s controversial data retention plan, it’s also true that in general, the Coalition has been broadly supporting of enhancing law enforcement access to telecommunications data.

However some key interest groups supporting the Coalition with close links to the Coalition have also been supportive of Ludlam’s comments in this area. A researcher for the conservative thinktank the Institute of Public Affairs, for example, highlighted Ludlam’s warrant effort on its ‘Freedom Watch’ blog last week and noted that it agreed with Ludlam that the US National Security Agency’s recently revealed powers of interception with major IT giants Apple, Google and Microsoft was an unwarranted breach of online rights.

One minor party likely to support the warrant push is the new Wikileaks Party formed by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and supporters, which has made a very similar call for warrants as Ludlam has.

Look, I’ll say this right up-front. This bill is never going to be supported by either the Coalition or Labor, and even the independents might have problems with it. As with a lot of the legislative work that the Greens do, it’s a vanity piece — a bill which doesn’t have a snowflake’s chance in hell of getting up, but which represents the ideals of the Greens; the kind of legislation which Greens voters want their elected representatives to put up.

However, I don’t think this is a bad thing. By developing this kind of legislation and taking the time to put it forward, as well as taking the parliamentary process as seriously as it (usually) does in the face of the rampant absurdity delivered by the other parties, the Greens are demonstrating what could be possible if our political parties were less, well, political, and more passionate about actual positive outcomes for Australians. More idealistic.

After all, I think it very likely that a majority of Australians would answer “yes” if asked whether they believed law enforcement agencies should be required to get a warrant before getting access to private telecommunications data. That fact illustrates that there is a vast disconnect between what’s acceptable in the inner echelons of government departments and politics, and what’s acceptable out there amongst the general public. It’s a sad fact; but it’s true.

Image credit: David Howe, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence


  1. I’m with you, Renai. Unfortunately, the bill will never get up, and may not even be debated (depending on the machinations of the Senate).

    It’s certainly a vanity piece, but a worthy one. As you say, The Greens seem to be among few that take the Parliament seriously. You may not always agree with their positions on things (and I say this as a Greens member, who doesn’t), but you can be sure they’ve done some thinking about it and reached their position through considered debate.

    • I am continually surprised at how the Greens actually follow and use the rules of parliament and expert the other parties to do the same, especially in the Senate. It’s really weird, when the normal behaviour from the other parties is usually to abuse the rules as much as possible.

      You often see the Greens get up and speak on issues, just to get them on the public record. Often motions are put, that they know they will lose, just so the Greens can formalise the other parties’ positions etc.

      I’ve been a Greens voter for many years, purely on refugee issues — I’ve never given my primary vote to either Labor or Coalition because of the refugee issue. It’s a matter of principle for me.

      On the other hand, they do put up some crazy fucking motions sometimes. For example, take this one:


      Imposing ‘made in Australia’ on a privately owned corporation? Lunacy.

      • I think it’s only “old people” that actually use the `pages any more (and even they got really pissed at them a few years back when they cut down the print size). I know the only use I’ve had for them for years now is propping up monitors without adjustable stands.

        Given that, I’m not sure how many jobs it’d actually create/retain by forcing them to keep the printing here anyway…

        • “the only use I’ve had for them for years now is propping up monitors without adjustable stands”

          Amen to that. Been doing that for a decade now.

          • I agree and what I find amusing Renai, is that even though I often see evidence of huge differences in our personal politics, we both end up voting Green for similar reasons (probably the least of which are their environmental policies, if only they could move away from their faith based position on nuclear power).

            This is where the way the party system has subverted democracy and it’s frankly a tragedy. Parties are anathema to real representation.

            On a different note have you seen this:
            It’s interesting in the context of the NBN and talk of CBAs. It shows that once again the value of a network is a function of it’s speed, capacity and the number of nodes – you can’t predict its worth based on what has gone before because it’s the novel uses that create the bulk of its value.

  2. I think this bill should be passed, if only to make law enforcement agencies recognise how woefully inefficient the current warrent acquisition process is.

    This kind of oversight is important. So instead of painting this as a “too hard” law, maybe you Renai should lead the charge on “This is essential, so how can we make it work without compromising on law enforcement efficiency?”

  3. Yes, well if there’s such a massive disconnect then people should be voting for parties that actually represent their desires and expectations, not selling themselves short to vote for their traditional major party at the expense of all else. Australians (collectively) are getting exactly the government they deserve given their voting preferences, and the quality of representation will only decline with the LNP gaining office in September (which isn’t just a statement of opinion – their actions and statements for at least the past 20 years demonstrate their disdain for representing the interests of voters generally, particularly if they are in opposition to the interests of major industries and lobby groups).

    • I agree, but too many parties have too many cons (not desired or wanted) to go alone with the pros (desires and expectations).
      Trying to find a party that represents individuals even up to an acceptable margin, is a difficult task.
      And then, some of the independents don’t publish much detail in how they stand for major issues either, leaving voters confused.

      Maybe one day, instead of just voting for candidates, voters will be allowed to vote on individual policies too (on a regular basis). Another good reason for electronic polling over the internet.

      • If accountability and reason are your thing, both wiki leaks and Free Party Australia are promising options we’ve never had in Australia before.

    • my thoughts exactly, too many rusted on’s voting for their parents party because that’s “what one does”

  4. They´ll get Party support once it has been shown that the powers have been used to leak information such as Diner Menus or abuse of Airforce Stewardesses. Just wait until the next witch hunt and if it even looks like those powers were used there´ll be a sudden rush of support for Ludlam´s Bill.

  5. Not a chance in hell. Half of that policy is typical green grandstanding, the half is an operational cluster-f*ck.

    AG and ASIO? No comment.

    This is the knee-jerk reaction I think most have seen coming. Problem is it’ll never get anywhere, because the people whom would vote for it, weren’t voted in; they arrived because the Australian Public likes to vote against folks.

    Soon as Australia grows up a bit and starts voting for people and policy (hint, opposition is a shoo-in despite having virtually no policy published) then we might see a bit more responsibility in parliament and in the senate.

    Instead, come next election we’ll see a strong vote to get rid of “that woman” by people whom have no clue what they’re even voting for.

    Meanwhile – spooks will continue to see better representation than people. Makes you think a bit, doesn’t it.

    • I’ll temper that with the understanding of what this is trying to do. Introduce accountability. Which is a nobel ideal. Just not a common element in today’s politics. :)

  6. Renai,

    I am surprised at you. The reality is right now there are many thousands of requests because they can. The free for all that exists now is due to the ease at which they can obtain the information. It is no justification for allowing it to continue. Make it harder for them to obtain this information and the number of these request will drop off dramatically. .

    The simple fact is any of these organisations can look up you, your mates, your mum’s calls with ease. How does that make you feel? Safer??? One of the reasons we have laws are to prevent abuses of authority, abuses of the very freedoms we have come to expect in our society. Clearly the process here is being abused. There needs to be a reasonable cause before you should be able to intrude into a persons life.

    This is not about phone calls, its about respecting the privacy of others, protected by the rule of law. We fought long an hard for these rights. Now everyone is content to lose them?

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