Labor queries antispam Bill’s seizure provisions

With the Spam Act now before the Senate, Labor has called into question proposed search and seizure provisions the Australian Communications Authority [ACA] may be given under the new bill.

Shadow IT Minister Senator Kate Lundy has demanded the Act go before a senate committee, a move she insists will not necessarily lead to delays, despite government grumblings that Labor is engaging in obstructionism.

“We are looking at a standard, half-day committee; we have no intention of delaying the Bill further, it will be very brief. But there needs to be clarification of [proposed ACA] search and seizure powers. [Under what is proposed] the ACA can bowl in anywhere. The Bill could allow ACA inspectors to enter and search premises ­ including private computer systems ­ without obtaining a warrant,” Lundy told Computerworld.

Another concern, she said, is that innocent recipients of spam could potentially have their computers searched or seized under the Act during the course of a spam investigation, a situation she described as “onerous”.

“We want to clarify what power they are creating. We have to find out what the ACA wants to do here. It highlights the need to get the department [of Communications, IT and the Arts] before a [senate] committee. These are very reasonable questions.”

Other sticking points for Labor include claims of inconsistency in the exemptions regime of the Bill, both for what is classed as spam and the mandatory inclusion of opt-out facilities.

Lundy said she will be demanding justifications as to why certain groups are exempted from providing “valid unsubscribe” facilities.

“At the moment that’s just not clear. They have had 18 months and it still needs improvement. We want legislation that gives Australians the best protection possible and protects legitimate civil liberties,” Lundy said.

Debating the Bill, the newly appointed IT Minister Daryl Williams, said spam is not just a nuisance, it imposes both real and virtual costs including time, dollars, distress and bandwidth. Williams said there are exemptions in the Bill to allow political parties, churches and charities to continue to send unsolicited e-mails.

Labor is seeking to have the exemptions extended to trade unions and nonprofit groups. The Bill has passed the Lower House and moved into the Senate.

Computerworld understands from the National Office of the Information Economy (NOIE) that the likelihood of the Bill being sent to committee was included when drawing up the legislative timetable for the Bill — which means it should be enacted in early 2004.

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