In a submission to the public consolation on the draft bill, Carolyn Worth, the manager of SECASA, said the broadening of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 was unwarranted and would be detrimental to all citizens, especially those with a background of family violence and/or sexual assault.
The period for public comment on the bill, which is officially known as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, ended on 10 September after the draft was released on 14 August.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton introduced the bill into Parliament on 20 September. One day has been set aside for a hearing before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.
Worth said the new legislation, by seeking to access all citizens' activities conducted on telecommunications devices, would be able to create an atmosphere of control and fear, especially for those who had suffered family violence.
The amendment would, thus, bring about an atmosphere of fear and coercion.
"Family violence often includes privacy violations such as surveillance, monitoring, or other stalking. For a family violence victim, privacy in relation to their activities goes hand in hand with their physical safety," Worth said.
"These activities might be seeking information about how to escape from an abusive relationship, electronically storing evidence of abuse or critical documentation as part of a safety plan."
She said the amendment would enable authorities and those collecting data to access all telecommunications activity "which mimics the same control exerted over victims by their abuser".
"Survivors will feel that no matter where they go or what they do electronically, just like in the family violence they have suffered, they will not be able to escape this controlling relationship, regardless of if their activities are law abiding or not," she said.
A second problem with the amendment, Worth claimed, was that it would provide the ability for proxy stalking. "Workers identified Facebook as a platform that perpetrators use to proxy stalk women," she said. "Proxy stalking refers to a perpetrator using the activities of other people against the victim.
"In a family violence setting this technique is used to heighten a woman’s feelings of isolation by conveying the impression that the perpetrator does not need to be present to control her; he can monitor her via other people and, in so doing, create the impression that no matter where she goes, she will not be safe from him."
It could also affect those with post traumatic stress disorder, Worth said. "Knowing that there is the possibility of having all telecommunication activities, including those with an expectation of privacy, examined by a third party and possibly used against them, may trigger PTSD in survivors of family violence."
She said stalking could have an effect on mental health. "This amendment will permit the government and its authorised representatives to become proxy abusers by subsuming the same powers as the family violence abuser of coercion and control."
An additional downside to the amendment was the misuse of information. Worth pointed out that one in six women were affected by family violence and some of them would be in relationships with those who constituted “officers and authorities of the Commonwealth and of the States and Territories” [as stated in the draft bill].
"A percentage will be in a relationship with or have a connection to workers in the telecommunications industry who have access to the private data this amendment proposes is to be gathered and stored. This amendment will give them carte blanch to invade the privacy of their current or ex partners without any checks or balances. If this amendment goes ahead, how does the government proposed to stop this happening?" she asked.
Worth recommended that if the amendment went ahead, police should be allowed to have access to the private data of perpetrators of family violence so they could pass this on to the victims. "In this way both police and victims can keep informed at all times of their abusers’ whereabouts and activities and take appropriate actions," she added.
The SECASA provides sexual assault and family violence services in Victoria within the Mornington Peninsula, Frankston, Bayside, Port Phillip, Stonnington, Glen Eira and Kingston local government areas. It also provides services to children and adults, both female and male, who have been sexually or physically assaulted.