Telco interception bill needs “major repairs”

Greens call on the government to make wholesale changes to the bill to stop ASIO staff becoming a "mercenary force" for government agencies

The Australian Greens have called for an overhaul of the Federal Government’s Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010, claiming the bill is in need of "major repair".

The bill, currently before the Senate, seeks to enable greater cooperation, assistance and information sharing within Australia’s law enforcement and national security agencies.

However according to the Greens communications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, the bill’s amendments were of major concern.

“[The bill] substantially broadens the scope of what ASIO and its agencies will be able to do, both in terms of their own motion, the kinds of information they will be able to share with other agencies, but also the fact they will able to be brought in other request of any other commonwealth agency to investigate, as far as I can tell, virtually anything at all,” he said.

Ludlam also noted the Law Council’s submission on the bill, claiming the bill effectively turned ASIO’s staff into a mercenary force.

“ASIO personnel, with their particular training, resources, practices and procedures should not be regarded as a mercenary force available on request, provided the Director-General consents and the Minister does not object,” the Law Council’s submission reads.

“The safeguards, which are in place to ensure that ASIO personnel operate within a lawful framework, are dependent on a clear articulation of ASIO’s functions. Those safeguards would be undermined by a provision which allowed ASIO personnel to pursue unrelated functions for other agencies.”

According to Ludlam, the committee responding to submissions on the proposed amendments was aware of concerns around the potential expansion of ASIO into areas such as tax law and welfare law, but had only made token changes to the bill.

“The Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee heard those concerns loud and clear and in response all they proposed was that some changes be made to the explanatory memorandum, and I think that really gives us cause for concern," he said.

"In fact in its not just clarification we need; this bill needs wholesale repair. You always know something is up when the [Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs] recommends changes to the explanatory memorandum.

"That is always a bit of a red flag to me.”

The Greens are not alone in their expression of concerns over the bill. In November, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) chief executive, Chris Althaus, said Schedule 2 of the proposed bill needed major changes.

“Schedule 2 in this bill, we suggest, shouldn’t proceed,” Althaus said at the time. “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.

Telstra and Optus have also warned that the bill has the potential to undermine Australian Cloud services providers and put constraints on the ability of telcos to change product offerings in response to market trends.

The Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, also voiced concerns in November, stating that the public’s national security interests needed to be balanced with its privacy interests.

“At the outset, I would note that the application of the Privacy Act 1988 to those Australian intelligence agencies, Australian government law enforcement agencies and state law enforcement agencies covered by the proposals in the bill varies, thereby leading to some potential gaps in privacy protection,” Pilgrim said at the time.

The Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) in October last year stated in its submission on the bill that it had the potential to destroy the hitherto carefully maintained separation between the roles of national security and law enforcement.

“The APF is also very concerned that major changes have been presented in such a manner as to mislead the public into thinking that they are merely fine tuning,” the submission reads.

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @tlohman

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags Australian Privacy Foundation (APF)ASIOThe Australian Greenssenator scott ludlumAustralian Privacy CommissionerAustralian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA)Telecommunications Interception Bil

More about AMTAASIOAustralian Mobile Telecommunications AssociationBillFederal GovernmentIONOptusPrivacy FoundationTelstra Corporation

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