Parliamentary committee seeks independent scrutiny of ‘encryption’ legislation

PJCIS requests Independent National Security Legislation Monitor examines controversial laws

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has for the first time referred legislation to the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) for scrutiny.

The PJCIS announced that the INSLM, Dr James Renwick, would scrutinise the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018: Legislation passed last year that is intended to facilitate police interception and surveillance of encrypted communications services.

The PJCIS review of the legislation prior to it being passed late last year recommended that the bill include an express provision for a statutory review of the its operation by the INSLM within 18 months of its provisions commencing. The legislation states that the INSLM must review the legislation’s operation “as soon as practicable after the 18‑month period beginning on the day that Act receives the Royal Assent”.

However, the government has faced calls for the INSLM to conduct his review before the end of the 18-month period. That position has been put forward by Labor and has found support among major industry organisations including Communications Alliance, the Australian Information Industry Association, and the Australian Industry Group.

“The Assistance and Access Act seeks to respond to highly technical challenges encountered by Australian intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the Act has attracted significant domestic and international attention,” said a statement issued today by the PJCIS chair, Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, and deputy chair, Labor MP Anthony Byrne.

“In our view, the INSLM provides a valuable, independent perspective on the balance between necessary security measures and the protection of civil liberties. As such, the INSLM is an important and valued component of Australia’s national security architecture.”

The statement added: “As an eminent barrister, Dr Renwick brings a wealth of legal expertise to the role of INSLM and has a strong understanding of national security issues and the operation of relevant security agencies. The Committee looks forward to the outcome and any recommendations made by the INSLM in the review and report.”

The INSLM has been requested to report by 1 March 2020. The committee is due to complete a review of the operation of the act later in 2020.

The PJCIS is currently conducting an inquiry into the legislation at the request of the Senate, including consideration of amendments introduced by the government on 6 December – the last sitting day of parliament for 2018 and the day the legislation was passed under unusual circumstances.

Today Labor MP Ed Husic said that the opposition was committed to making changes to the “terrible” legislation.

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