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The battle for privacy intensifies in Australia

(EFF/IFEX) - August 31, 2012 - Australians are fending off threats to their right to privacy from all directions. First, there was Australian Attorney General Nicola Roxon's push to expand government online surveillance powers, submitted to Parliament in a package of reforms sought in a National Security Inquiry.

Then, on Aug. 22, the Australian Senate approved the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, granting authorities the power to require phone and Internet providers to store up to 180 days worth of personal communications data. The purpose is to aid in investigations by both foreign and domestic law enforcement agencies, making it especially controversial since it can result in granting foreign governments access to Australian citizens' communications data. The legislation only allows for data retention in the cases of specifically targeted individuals.

The bill is based on the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime - which we've flagged in the past as one of the world's worst Internet law treaties - and the passage of the bill opens the door for Australia to join the Convention.

At least we can welcome the news that one of the most controversial aspects of Roxon's National Security Inquiry proposal, a vague mandatory data retention provision that would have required service providers to retain all users' communications data for up to two full years, seems to have been placed on hold - for now, anyway.

Yet at the same time, the newly approved Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 is viewed by some in Australia as a kind of "data retention lite," and a precursor to the mass, untargeted surveillance that the more extreme proposal may yet usher in. An outcome of the approval of this bill, after all, is that providers will now have to install systems enabling data retention for up to 180 days - and pay for it themselves.

Public Fights Back

Despite the steady march toward expanded online snooping powers for law enforcement in the name of "national security," a hefty pile of submissions landed in Parliamentary chambers last week, reflecting strong public opposition to the proposed reforms. A total of 177 submissions, representing thousands of individuals and organizations, flowed in to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security even though the government allowed only a brief timeframe for comment.

Below, we collected some reactions of various Australian stakeholders who drafted lengthy submissions to convey their serious concerns. Civil liberties advocates aren't the only ones worried about where this is going. The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association and Communications Alliance, a telecom industry group, also chimed in to express concerns about costly new requirements for telecoms that would come attached to these surveillance measures. Since data retention disproportionately burdens smaller ISPs affected by requiring expensive equipment upgrades, the measure has the potential to hamper innovation by discouraging new startups from entering the market.

Re: Making it a Crime to Refuse to Aid in Decryption

One of the worst ideas contained in the National Security Inquiry package is the creation of a new crime under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act of 1979: Refusing to aid law enforcement in the decryption of communications. That interception law granted law enforcement agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), the ability to legally intercept communications for the first time. Reactions to the proposal hinged on the threat it poses to Australians' right to silence.


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