On 6 December 2018, the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 – also known as the ‘Encryption Bill’ – passed both houses of Parliament.
This passing was not without controversy.
Digital technologies have enabled many aspects of our professional and social lives.
These benefits have also been exploited by criminals in pursuit of their activities and avoiding detection.
There were many submissions prior to this Bill being passed and whilst most acknowledged the critical importance of law enforcement and national security agencies having appropriate powers to carry out their functions, they questioned aspects of transparency, appropriateness and proportionality.
Interestingly, crime in Australia, across all categories in all jurisdictions has been trending down for decades – the reality is, we have never been safer.
The good news is that the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor has been asked by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to review the operation, effectiveness and implications of amendments made by the Act.
This is a public review which will result in a public report being tabled in Parliament.
There are many aspects to focus on, with necessity, I believe, being the most important.
Law enforcement agencies’ survivability depends on the trust and confidence in them by the public.
The public have an existing perception of police based on seeing uniformed officers in a variety of situations.
How they perform in these situations impact consumer sentiment including impressions towards the granting of additional police powers.
More broadly there has been a decline in public confidence in the capacity of government to address public policy concerns.
Law enforcement and national security agencies have long argued this Act was necessary as they see, for example, encrypted communications being used by suspects in many investigations involving serious and organised crime.
But this alone does not make this law necessary.
A key question to ask is prior to this Act, how many of these investigations did not proceed, or were unsuccessful in court due to a lack of evidence which would have been available due to access to encrypted communications?
Indeed, since this Act, has access to encrypted data (made possible because of this legislation) been the dominant evidence in a criminal investigation or has it merely corroborated other avenues of enquiry?
Police have many tools available, particularly metadata (which is simple to obtain, plentiful in nature, and very powerful) in which to investigate crime.
More granular public reporting would build the trust between the public and law enforcement institutions. This should include:
· How many times the legislation was used?
· What offences was it used to investigate and what were the court results?
· Was the use of this legislation the sole reason a prosecution was successful?
Effective policing demands public trust.
Maintaining that trust goes beyond reducing crime.
It involves being accountable for how safe communities feel, not just how safe they are.