Senate snubs e-mail snooping law

The Senate has rejected a proposal that would have forced Internet service providers (ISPs) to assist law enforcement agencies to snoop on e-mails.

A proposal to amend legislation, allowing Government agencies to snoop on e-mail, SMS and voice mail messages without an interception warrant, would have opened the scope of data surveillance, according to privacy advocates.

The rejected amendment, part of the Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill 2002, (one of the Government's package of antiterrorism bills) would have allowed LEAs (law enforcement agencies) to intercept undelivered e-mails stored on an ISP's server without an interception warrant.

Under the current regime, ISPs are obliged to provide information to assist Federal and State law enforcement agencies when both an interception warrant and a search warrant are issued.

In April, representatives of various LEAs, including the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, lobbied a Senate Committee for the amendment during a three-day hearing on legislation relating to security and terrorism.

The LEAs voiced concerns that a lack of understanding of technical specifications in the legislation, regarding the delivery and the storing of e-mailed communications, has frustrated police investigations in the past.

Privacy advocacy body Electronic Frontiers Association (EFA), hailed the Senate's decision as a "victory for online privacy", but is not sitting on its laurels. Instead, the EFA is calling on the community to remain "vigilant", claiming the Government is likely to re-introduce the proposal during the Spring sittings of Parliament.

"The Government failed to achieve passage of the amendment in a package of extremely controversial bills. It may hope no one will be paying close attention next time around," Irene Graham, executive director of EFA said.

"The Government sought to adversely shift the long-established balance between individuals' right to privacy and legitimate law enforcement agency needs."

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