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Friday, 26 February 2016 01:07

EFA attacks ‘hard-line’ Nikolic as head of Intelligence, Security committee

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EFA attacks ‘hard-line’ Nikolic as head of Intelligence, Security committee Image courtesy of Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net/images

Digital freedoms and rights group Electronic Frontiers Australia has slammed the appointment of Tasmanian MP Andrew Nikolic as Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, saying he has an “apparent disdain” for civil liberties.

EFA executive officer Jon Lawrence lashed out at the MP for what he says were his “hard-line views on national security issues and his apparent disdain for civil liberties”, suggesting that he is “unlikely to bring a balanced and objective perspective to the important work of this committee”.

“Independent and objective oversight of Australia’s security and intelligence laws and agencies has never been more important to ensure that the civil liberties of Australians are not unnecessarily sacrificed in the name of ‘national security,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence reconfirmed that the EFA has previously called for greater independence and an expanded scope for the Intelligence and Security Committee, including oversight of operational matters.

Lawrence cited the Committee’s equivalent in the United Kingdom parliament, which he says has “significantly more expansive powers, has recently demonstrated its own newfound independence from government by tabling a report that is scathing in its criticism of the UK government’s draft Investigatory Powers Bill, specifically that the bill ‘appears to have suffered from a lack of sufficient time and preparation’ and the Committee called for an entirely new section dedicated to privacy protections.”

“While the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee has recently found itself defending the privacy and civil liberties of UK citizens in the face of significant government overreach, it is very difficult to imagine Australia’s Intelligence and Security Committee taking a similarly independent position with Mr Nikolic in the chair. This is appointment is particularly disappointing given Prime Minister Turnbull’s previously-expressed support for civil liberties.”

Lawrence also took a swipe at both the Labor Party and the Coalition.

“EFA is also disappointed that both Labor party and Coalition senators yesterday voted against a motion moved by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, which called upon the government to ‘support the continued development and use of strong encryption technologies, resist any push from other governments to weaken encryption on personal devices, and work with law enforcement to develop alternative avenues to obtain information through warrants and targeted surveillance that does not put every Australian at greater risk of identity theft.”

Just last week, the EFA, along with hundreds of other organisations from over 40 countries, signed an open letter to world leaders calling on them to support the safety and security of users, companies, and governments by strengthening the integrity of communications and systems.

Lawrence said that in doing so, governments should reject laws, policies, or other mandates or practices, including secret agreements with companies, that limit access to or undermine encryption and other secure communications tools and technologies.

“It’s disappointing that both major parties have chosen to reject the opportunity to commit to privacy and strong encryption. These are critical enablers of digital communications and commerce, and calls for them to be undermined in the name of ‘national security’ are fundamentally misguided and dangerous.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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