Tuesday, 26 November 2019 10:57

Govt still dawdling on encryption bill amendments, says Dreyfus Featured

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Mark Dreyfus says that, nearly a year after it was passed, the government is yet to honour commitments it made about the encryption bill. Mark Dreyfus says that, nearly a year after it was passed, the government is yet to honour commitments it made about the encryption bill. Courtesy YouTube

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus has slammed the Morrison Government over its tardiness in implementing amendments to the encryption law which was passed last year, saying Finance Minister Senator Mathias Cormann had agreed to do so, and has yet to keep his word nearly a year on.

Dreyfus told the House of Representatives on Monday that Labor had agreed to pass the bill if it and the amendments suggested by the government be immediately referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and that the new laws conformed to the recommendations of the committee by early 2019.

The encryption law, known as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, was passed on 6 December 2018.

A review was instituted by the PJCIS as soon as bill was passed, with a reporting date of 3 April. It was expected to provide some solace to the technology industry.

But the PJCIS then kicked the issue down the road, asking the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, Dr James Renwick, to review the law and report back by 1 March 2020.

In October, Dr Renwick said he was extending the date for submissions to his review until 1 November. At the time he made this announcement, just 15 submissions had been received.

Dreyfus said: "On behalf of the government, Senator Mathias Cormann agreed to those conditions. As recorded in Hansard, Senator Cormann also said that the government supported, in principle, all amendments that were consistent with the Joint Intelligence and Security committee's recommendations.

"But here we are, a year later, in the final sitting fortnight of 2019, and it remains the case that Senator Cormann and the government have not honoured the commitment that Senator Cormann made.

"It remains the case that the Morrison Government continues to ignore the bipartisan recommendations made by the intelligence committee, continues to ignore the calls for reform of the now enacted legislation from industry and continues to ignore the very direct commitment that it made."

Dreyfus also pointed out that the government had made no effort to ensure that encryption law was compliant with the US Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act or CLOUD Act, which allows the US to seek access to data stored by American firms in any foreign domain.

Additionally, US allies also benefit. "Under the US CLOUD Act, it is possible for Australia to enter into a bilateral agreement with the United States to allow Australian agencies to request the data of non-US persons, like text messages sent by or to a terrorist subject, from American technology companies directly," Dreyfus pointed out.

"This new regime, if Australia is able to enter into a bilateral agreement with the United States, would give Australian agencies much faster access than under the existing regime of making such requests via the US Department of Justice under mutual legal assistance arrangements."

Former Labor digital affairs spokesman Ed Husic added his voice to Dreyfus' concerns, saying: "There were 15,000 submissions made by people in Australia's tech sector about the flaws in this bill. This government refused to take those submissions on board, refused to make a lot of those submissions public and refused to listen to what was said.

"On top of that, they then tried to shut down the committee when it was considering this bill. They tried to shut down consultation on, and consideration and criticism of, this bill back at the tail end of last year—this time 12 months ago. That is what they did.

"And, in their inability to manage the legislative program, they failed to bring their own legislation to this place to have it properly discussed in a timely way and to ensure that, when it got to the other place, the amendments could be considered."

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Sam Varghese

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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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