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Major changes to Australian internet legislation needed says report

31 Jul 2020

When the TOLA (Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Assistance and Access) bill passed in 2018, a commitment was made to review the legislation within 12 months.

The legislation was designed to help Australia’s National Security agencies to fight crime via access to the technology and digital communications of alleged criminals.

Internet Australia has an independent role of representing everyday Australians within the area of internet politics. They have been fiercely critical of the TOLA legislation as intrusive legislation with few safeguards. They also see the law as favouring the Australian security services over the legitimate privacy of Australians.

“The legislation is heavily tilted towards security agencies, with vague wording, few protections and no independent oversight,” says Internet Australia Chair Paul Brooks.

Although the bill has been reviewed in different ways between its introduction and now, an important report has recently been released.

Many have been waiting with bated breath for a report from the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM).

The INSLM is an independent body with an ongoing role to review of the operation, effectiveness and implications of Australian counter‑terrorism and national security legislation

Its report findings are dramatic, with many recommendations that would see big change if accepted.

“We raised concerns about secrecy, safeguards, the risks of backdoors, and the impact on Australian industry, and they listened. We must be vigilant to ensure well-intentioned measures to assist law-enforcement investigations do not reduce security or privacy for the vast majority of legitimate and law-abiding uses, or retard the ongoing development of future secure and trusted methods of communication,” says Brooks

“This report is very refreshing, from industry and civil society point of view,” says Brooks.

In particular, Internet Australia strongly supports the INSLM’s recommendations to create a genuinely independent judicial body to review proposals for notices and to increase the threshold of ‘serious Australian offence’ into line with other similar laws. These changes will assist the community to have some confidence that the use of these intrusive powers can be properly evaluated for balance and proportionality while being restricted to the most serious of investigations.

Other organisations like Access Now as well as Amazon and Google have come out in support of the INSLM report recommendations.

Although even if the report’s recommendations are adopted, Internet Australia continues to believe that the legislation remains fundamentally flawed.

“Internet Australia believes that the legislation, as it stands, retains many of these faults and is clearly beginning to damage the export prospects of numerous Australia software companies – international customers cannot trust that Australian technology hasn’t been compromised by Government-mandated backdoors.

While the changes recommended by the INSLM are welcomed, more must be done to ensure these laws don’t result in damaging the trust Australians must-have in the security of the systems they use every day and don’t result in Australians becoming less safe online,” says Brooks.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence & Security (JPCIS) is next scheduled to meet on Monday 27th July. Internet Australia is calling for the JPCIS to take the INSLM report seriously and to accept its recommendations.

“Adopting the INSLM report’s recommendations would go a long way to balancing the legislation and protecting the best interests of Australia,” says Brooks.

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