The government has redrafted legislation to implement its ‘Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms’ (TSSR) program.
The legislation, which the government had previously indicated it wanted to have passed before the end of the year, is intended to strengthen the robustness of Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure.
The initial exposure draft of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 met with a less than enthusiastic response from industry, which was concerned with sweeping powers to interfere with communications networks through the government issuing directions to telcos to do (or not do) specified "things" to boost infrastructure security.
Telcos were concerned over the lack of avenues to appeal directions and a lack of clarity on the decision-making process for issuing them, and the impact the proposed legislation on the industry.
The reworked exposure draft (PDF) boosts safeguards on the use of proposed regulatory powers and clarifies the intended scope and application of requirements to be imposed on telecommunications providers, a statement issued by attorney-general George Brandis and communications minister Mitch Fifield said.
“The bill now provides greater safeguards for industry while still meeting the core objective of better protection of telecommunications networks from espionage, sabotage and disruption activity,” the statement said.
“The proposed legislation continues to reflect the approach recommended by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.”
Among its changes, the new draft shifts the power to issue directions to telcos from the secretary of the Attorney-General's Department to the attorney-general and increases the threshold for the use of the power, including requiring an adverse security assessment to be furnished by ASIO.
The directions will be reviewable under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977.
Telco industry body Communications Alliance said that it was still digesting the impact of the changes to the draft but its early impression was that the amendments reflected the concerns of its members and represent a “more balanced approach” to securing telecommunications networks.
The CEO of Internet Australia Laurie Patton said his organisation was still analysing the new draft.
“However, we do happily acknowledge that the Attorney General's Department is clearly wishing to consult on this controversial legislation and has offered to meet with us,” Patton said. “That's a positive sign.”
“The TSSR is similar to the data retention legislation passed in that few people believe an adequate case has been made to justify the risks of unintended consequences,” Patton said.
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The government is seeking submissions on the revised exposure draft. Submissions will close on 18 January 2016.