In the face of overwhelming opposition to the new ‘backdoor’ encryption-access law, local federal Labor MP Justine Elliot has defended her rushed vote for the bill on the grounds of ‘national security’ and ‘keeping Australians safe’.
Remarkably Mrs Elliot reasoned that the law needed to be rushed owing to Labor being wedged by the cross-bench and the coalition.
Instead of taking more time to deliberate, she said she ‘wanted to ensure that our agencies have appropriate powers over the holiday period.’
Law Council concerns
Whether that rhetoric stacks up is yet to emerge; major concerns have been raised by the tech industry and the Law Council, who say there will be unintended consequences for not properly scrutinising the bill and there is a possibility of ‘intelligence agency and law-enforcement overreach.’
Under the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, law enforcement and intelligence agencies will be able to access encrypted private information without a warrant, as well as have the power detain individuals in certain circumstances.
Phone apps like WhatsApp and Telegram would no longer be secure.
After the bill passed on Thursday in federal parliament, a torrent of tweets from industry professionals roundly criticised the Bill, claiming among other things this will lead to Australia’s IT and software engineering sectors moving offshore.
Of all the Five Eyes counties, Australia has the most onerous and strict cyber laws and perhaps the weakest provisions for the protection of free speech and privacy.
Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. These countries are parties to a treaty for joint co-operation in signals intelligence.
This alliance became public knowledge after revelations from former US intel agent Edward Snowden.
Privacy oversight underfunded
Mrs Elliot was asked, ‘The Echo understands the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) enforces Australia’s Privacy Act 1988, but is underfunded. Do you agree?’ No response was provided.
Instead, Justine Elliot told The Echo her party was wedged by the coalition and the crossbench over the law, and eventually sided with the coalition.
She said after the Morrison government introduced 173 amendments on the morning of December 6, ‘It was clear that the government had breached faith and not fully implemented the recommendations from the bipartisan Intelligence Committee report.’
The party had two choices, she said: ‘Vote with the crossbench to pass our amendments in the Senate, and wait until the House of Representatives returns next year to pass the amended bill; or vote with the government in the Senate to pass these laws now, without Labor’s amendments, to ensure that our agencies have appropriate powers over the holiday period.’
She added, ‘In return for supporting the bill, we secured an agreement from the government that they would allow time for our further amendments to be debated and voted on in the first week of Parliament next year (February 12, 2019). We also secured an immediate referral to the Intelligence Committee so that parliamentary scrutiny of this legislation can continue.
‘This will provide a further opportunity for Australians to have their say. The Intelligence Committee will report before next year’s election.’