Greens seek amendments as Senate opens metadata debate

Second reading debate interrupted by question time

Greens ICT spokesman Senator Scott Ludlam

Greens ICT spokesman Senator Scott Ludlam

The Australian Greens proposed several amendments to the data retention bill that they said address privacy and security gaps in the legislation.

Last Thursday, Labor joined arms with the Coalition to pass the government’s amended data retention legislation in the lower house. Today, the Senate began its second reading debate on the bill, but it was interrupted by question time.

During the debate, Shadow Defense Minister Stephen Conroy supported the legislation, saying it had come a long way since it was first floated.

Senators for the Greens, however, said they will continue to reject the bill without significant changes.

"Our amendments address major privacy and security protections that are being stripped away by the Abbott/Shorten surveillance unity ticket," said Senator Scott Ludlam of the Greens.

“Authorities should need a warrant to access bulk metadata and that entire process should have proper, independent oversight.

“This debate has shown quickly the ALP is willing to fall into step with Tony Abbott, and without these amendments, any Australian who uses a phone or internet device will be caught. The onus is now on the ALP to help fix this bill, not just wave it through the Senate.”

Under the proposed amendments by the Greens, authorities in most cases would have to apply for a warrant before they could access metadata. Authorities would only be able to access metadata for serious crimes. The amendments also expand the role to the public interest advocate to contest the breadth of the authorisations.

Also, the amendments would shorten the length of time telcos have to store data to three months from two years. And data would be required to be stored in Australia.

Read more: Labor waves through data retention

“Storing the data in Australia will reduce the risk of hacking and data breaches leading to mass exposure of personal information,” said Ludlam.

Ludlam said the amendments also add more protection for journalists by providing a wider definition of what constitutes journalism.

“Our amendments also create protocols to ensure professionals working in areas such as the legal or medical fields are protected, in the event our wider amendments are not successful,” he said.

Finally, the amendments would require the Commonwealth Ombudsman every six months to examine records of agencies with access to metadata.

Read more: Labor gives itself a good back-patting over data retention bill

And they would remove the ability of the Attorney-General to “randomly widen the scope of this scheme through regulation, without coming back to Parliament,” Ludlam said.

The full list of amendments can be read on Ludlam’s website.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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