Labor to concede Spam Bill amendments

Labor has conceded the high ground to the government and will not block the passage of the Spam Bill in the Senate, Shadow Communications Minister Kate Lundy has revealed to Computerworld. Labor had proposed a series of amendments relating to search and seizure powers to be granted to the Australian Communications Authority.

"I urge the government to consider our very constructive amendments that I believe tweak the legislation to be clearer, stronger and more effective. I acknowledge that the importance of this legislation and the fact that it is long overdue. In the context that the government does not accept these amendments, I envisage that the Bill will pass with Labor support, and either way there is a review in two years time of its operation and we will have an opportunity do that then," Lundy said.

The new Spam legislation initially faced an uncertain future after a Labor instigated Senate Committee allowed it through without change two weeks ago. Labor and the Democrats initially indicated they would play hard ball and combine to force changes to the new laws, a move that would have had little if any popular electoral support.

The proposed amendments related mainly to new powers to be granted to the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) under the Bill which, at law at least, potentially allows the authority to search and seize computer equipment of spam victims in the course of an inquiry. As one of the architects of the bill, National Office for the Information Economy's Manager of Online Policy, Lindsay Barton is undoubtedly breathing a sigh of relief.

"I'm very satisfied with the package that has been developed by the government," Barton said, noting that concerns over search and seizure provisions should be viewed in the context of provisions for consent and established warrant procedures to obtain evidence that would be admissible before a court in the course of a prosecution.

"In most cases you would go through a warrant process simply because the evidence is so fragile," Barton said.

Other amendments Labor sought, albeit without cross-bench support, included an exemption for trade unions and not-for-profit political lobby groups such as Amnesty International to be able to send unsolicited, individual e-mail messages, which they genuinely believed to be of interest so long as they had a valid opt-out provision.

The Spam Bill, in its full original glory, will grace the red carpet of the Senate sometime before December 5 and is most likely to take effect in the second half of next year.