news Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has reportedly demanded that the Government provide a revised draft of its planned telco national security bill, in the wake of loud complaints from Australia’s entire technology sector about the controversial legislation.
Dubbed the Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms, the legislation has been in development by the Attorney-General’s Department for at least a year. It will give the Government sweeping powers over private sector telco networks, requiring, among other powers, telcos to notify security agencies of key changes to networks and giving the Attorney-General’s Department the power to request information from and issue directions to telcos.
Late last month, four major industry groups whose members will be affected by the changes — the Communications Alliance, the self-regulatory body which represents almost all major telcos in Australia, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Alliance, which represents the mobile industry, the Australian Information Industry Association, which represents the technology sector, and the Australian Industry Group, which represents industry as a whole — joined forces to note major concerns with the bill.
And earlier this week, a number of other voices were added to the mix, with major companies such as Foxtel, iiNet, Macquarie Telecom, TPG, Telstra and Optus all expressing strong concerns regarding it.
Up until today, the Opposition has not expressed a clear view with respect to the bill, but this morning The Australian newspaper quoted Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus as stating that the Government must produce a “revised exposure draft” of the legislation, before it is examined by the Coalition- and Labor-dominated Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. We recommend you click here for the full article.
The news severely calls into question the claim by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the telecommunications sector and the Government were on a “unity” ticket with respect to the bills.
It also widens the growing gulf between the Labor Party and the Coalition on telecommunications-related national security matters.
Up until last month, the two major parties have largely teamed up to pass controversial legislation in this area. However, Labor passed a motion at its National Conference last month that will see it formally review the Data Retention legislation passed earlier this year, adding to an existing planned review enshrined in the legislation itself.
The move evoked an immediate response from Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, who said the decision was “alarming” and added Labor must ‘stick to its word’ and continue to show support for the policy.
The third-largest political party in Federal Parliament, the Greens, has been relatively quiet in the TSSR debate up until this point, but it appears the party is unlikely to support the bill. “I think the last thing we would want to see would be Commonwealth bureaucrats telling computer security experts who run these big telecommunications companies how to run their networks and their data centres.,” Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam told the ABC in late July.
Good to see Labor listening to Australia’s technology sector on this bill. While some aspects of the bill do represent good policy and will help to clean up the relationship between the Government and telcos on national security matters, there are still deep concerns about many aspects of it. A reworked exposure draft is a good idea, and I commend Labor for requesting one before this bill gos to the PJCIS.
One further point here is that Labor appears to be increasingly moving to shore up its weaknesses when it comes to the issue of electronic surveillance. There is no doubt that the party was burnt by the recent data retention debate, in which the Greens were able to paint Labor as being in a unity ticket with the Government in implementing Orwellian surveillance. The data retention motion and Dreyfus’ demand today for a new TSSR draft shift Labor quite a bit closer to the Greens’ position on these matters.
In comparison, the Greens have been relatively quiet on the TSSR bill in general. One wonders whether Labor’s tacticians have sensed that they can steal a bit of the limelight from the Greens on this one. If Labor continues along this path and the Greens don’t make a big deal out of the TSSR, that certainly appears to be a possibility.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting