The opposition has tabled amendments to the Assistance and Access Act that it says will repair controversial encryption laws.
Senator Kristina Keneally put amendments to the Senate on Wednesday that seek to limit the scope and power of the encryption bill.
Labor’s amendments will ensure that a technical assistance request must not require “a designated communications provider to implement or build a systemic weakness, or a systemic vulnerability” – such as in-built decryption – or prevent the provider from “rectifying a systemic weakness, or a systemic vulnerability”.
The amendments also add provisions for extra judicial oversight and limit the issuing of notices unless there is certainty that the technical assistance measures “are reasonable and appropriate”.
In a statement released earlier this week, Labor said it was putting forward amendments that aligned with the work of bipartisan committees.
“The Morrison Government have broken their promise to Australia’s tech sector and by failing to amend their encryption laws – putting a handbrake on the digital economy, and hindering the creation of jobs, productivity and growth of the economy,” the Labor statement read.
“Some customers are less likely to seek out contracts with Australian technology companies due to a widespread perception that Australia’s encryption laws may require them to introduce systemic weaknesses into their systems.
“To address these concerns, Labor’s amendments will introduce a judicial authorisation requirement to provide assurances to the United States Congress that Australia’s laws are compatible with the US Government’s CLOUD Act.”
In the final parliamentary sitting of 2018, "the government rushed through the legislation that Human Rights Commissioner, Edward Santow, warned would “dramatically increase the access of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to the private communications of ordinary Australians, with implications for our right to privacy and freedom of expression”.
Since then, a formal review of the Encryption Act has begun, but its existence has impeded relationships with strategic allies like the United States.
Although Labor’s amendment bill won’t be debated until the new year, don’t expect a change of heart from a government that has enjoyed 12 months of this legislative power.
A government spokesperson told Information Age that it was waiting on the outcome of reviews before deciding on whether or not to change the Assistance and Access Act.
“Labor is asking for amendments while the PJCIS and the INSLM are still conducting their reviews,” the spokesperson said.
“The Government has agreed to the PJCIS’ request to allow PJCIS and INSLM more time to review this important legislation.
“This is just a political stunt from the opposition. The government will carefully consider any recommendations made by the INSLM and the PJCIS when they report next year.”
Since the legislation came into law, the tech industry has warned against its effects on the sector.
Earlier this year, Atlassian co-founder, Scott Farquhar, said the Encryption Act hampered the prospects of Australian tech jobs.
“The fact is that the jobs of the future -- these high paying jobs, export dollars that we bring to Australia, largely in technology -- are at risk because of the laws that have been passed,” Farquhar said.
Jared Ragland from the Business Software Alliance (BSA) was pleased to see encryption laws once again getting airtime in parliament.
“BSA is encouraged by the ongoing legislative reviews of the Assistance and Access Framework in Australia and efforts in the Australian Parliament to improve the Framework,” Ragland said.
“We look forward to engaging the Australian Parliament further on the Framework and seeking an improved outcome for citizens, law enforcement, and the technology community.”