Wednesday, 13 February 2019 05:52

Govt wants encryption bill powers for anti-corruption bodies Featured

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Govt wants encryption bill powers for anti-corruption bodies Pixabay

The Federal Government will try to push amendments to the encryption law on Wednesday to give anti-corruption bodies the right to use its powers, while Labor will try to get an amendment through to define a systemic weakness.

On Tuesday, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, who has been pushing for this definition for a while, said the government was back-tracking on an agreement to pass amendments which were drafted after hearings of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Security and Intelligence last year.

The encryption law, officially known as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018), was passed on 6 December, but just 12 days later, the PJCIS said it would begin a fresh review.

The new review has asked for submissions and will submit a report by 3 April.

Dreyfus said the 17 amendments that had been released last year by the government did not fully implement the recommendations of the PJCIS.

"Labor agreed to support the passage of the access bill and the government's 173 amendments on the condition that, first, the new laws be immediately referred to the committee for inquiry and report by 3 April 2019 and, second, that the government agree to facilitate consideration of Labor's proposed amendments that would have made the access bill conform to most of the committee's recommendations in the new year in government business time," he said.

"On behalf of the government, Senator Mathias Cormann agreed to those conditions."

Labor is seeking an additional inquiry to examine the economic impact of the law. A number of Australian technology companies have said it will have an adverse impact on them.

"It is not tenable to argue, as the government continues to argue, that its amendments largely implemented the committee's 17 recommendations," Dreyfus said. "No reasonable person accepts that.

"The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, who has made a public submission to the committee, doesn't accept it. Industry doesn't accept it. Lawyers and other civil society groups don't accept it. The Commonwealth Ombudsman has even told the committee that the government's amendments are inconsistent with the Ombudsman's role as an independent and impartial office."

He said Labor wanted an amendment to ensure that companies would not be made to do anything that would “compromise the security of the critical systems or result in the personal information of innocent third parties being left vulnerable to hackers”.

“As a matter of principle, Labor does not believe that the attorney-general or a senior police officer should be given the power to compel an innocent person, unconnected to an investigation, to provide technical assistance to a government agency without a warrant," he added.

"Labor is committed to referring the measures introduced by this legislation to a parliamentary committee for inquiry and report on their economic impacts. It's vital that the economic impacts of this legislation are properly considered and, if necessary, amendments are made to reduce any unnecessary impact on Australian businesses."

The amendments could not be voted on before the bill was passed in December as the House had already risen for the day. Labor leader Bill Shorten agreed to pass the bill, on the proviso that the amendments would be passed during the first sitting of 2019.

The lack of time came about because the government delayed voting on another bill in the Senate – a cross-party push to amend existing legislation on moving refugees from Manus Island and Nauru to the mainland. The delay was a tactic adopted in order to prevent the bill going back to the lower house for a vote.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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