Telco Interception Act places "onerous requirements" on industry

Telstra, Optus warn of potential impact on Cloud services provision in Australia

The Australian telecommunications industry has warned that the Federal Government’s proposed amendments to the Telecommunications Interception Act will have "onerous requirements" for telecommunications providers and could limit partnerships and outsourcing by Australian companies, further warning of a potential impact on Cloud services provision.

Speaking at a senate committee hearing into the bill — which seeks to enable greater cooperation, assistance and information sharing within Australia’s law enforcement and national security agencies — Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), chief executive, Chris Althaus, said Schedule 2 of the proposed bill was of major concern.

“Schedule 2 in this bill, we suggest, shouldn’t proceed,” Althaus said. “It is a schedule which is providing what we regard as onerous requirements on industry, and that has the potential to limit partnerships and outsourcing by Australian companies.

“It creates a non-technology neutral situation with uneven requirements in Australia versus other places in the world. It certainly will create uncertainty and high levels of risk. It certainly will delay and potentially limit the rollout of innovation and innovative products and constrain our members and the industry’s ability to assemble competitive packages.”

In essence, Schedule 2 of the bill requires telecommunications providers to notify the government of any network change that system is likely to have a “material adverse effect” on the capacity of the organisation to comply with its obligations under the bill or section 313 of the Telecommunications Act 1997.

According to Telstra manager, future networks and services, regulatory operations, Michael Ryan, the proposed bill had the potential to place additional burden on telecommunications companies looking to provide cloud services.

“Providers [of Cloud services] in Australia can be telecommunications related companies or they can be independent software related companies, so we end up with some real discrepancies with what is proposed in Schedule 2 in that if a telecommunications company wants to package up some Cloud computing with some telecommunications services it is providing it appears to get caught up in Schedule 2 but a purely software house apparently wouldn’t,” he said.

"Likewise these services can be supplied directly from overseas, but if we want to be involved and make it easier for our customers by putting together a total package of services then we seem to get caught up with additional notification required by this process."

According to, Optus manager, regulatory compliance and safeguards, Michael Elsegood, a danger in the bill was that definitions, especially that of a “system change” were far too broad.

“A system change, under the very expansive definition of what constitutes a telecommunications service and telecommunications system under the TIA Act, a system change could be something as simple as a Cloud computing service being repackaged for targeting small to medium business customers,” he said.

“Or it could be as extensive as a wholesale change to shift a major in-house computing application from being hosted in Australia to overseas.”

The level of reporting and compliance activity telecommunications providers would have to do under the bill was also of concern, Elsegood said.

“We are doing changes all the time in our organisation we are looking at adjustments to products, new services and applications all the time, so to some extent we don’t know how much reporting we would have to do under this proposed schedule,” he said.

“Part of our concern [with the bill] is that we would have to go back into our organisation and do an entire audit of the things that we do to make sure we comply with the Act.”

As reported by Computerworld Australia the Office of Australian Information Commissioner has also stated concerns with the bill, warning that potential gaps exist in the privacy safeguards in the Federal Government’s proposed Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010.

The Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) has also expressed that it has the “most serious concern” about the bill.

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Tags Telstraoptustelecommunications interception actAustralian Information CommissionerAustralian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA)

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