A private bill to change the Encryption Act was debated in the senate yesterday, with both Liberal and Greens senators taking Labor to task for helping pass the controversial legislation on the last sitting day of 2018.
Senator Kristina Keneally put the amendments forward, saying they were in line with initial recommendations made by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS).
Labor’s proposed amendments aim to reign in some of the Encryption Act’s power, in part by limiting discretionary powers of the Home Affairs minister such as making Encryption Act determinations based on anything the minister “considers relevant”.
The amendments also seek to repeal the minister’s ability to edit and delete information from departmental reports about the use of the Act.
Labor also wants to see more judicial oversight in the issuing of technical assistance notices and a repeal of the definitions of “systemic vulnerability” and “systemic weakness”.
“We have listened carefully and closely to these concerns, and we will continue to work closely with our intelligence and law enforcement agencies and technology experts throughout the course of the current PJCIS inquiry,” Keneally said.
“The amendments proposed in this bill are an important step towards repairing Australia's encryption laws for the sake of our national security and the growth of a key sector in our domestic economy and the jobs it would create.”
Liberal Senator, Eric Abetz, was highly critical of Keneally’s move to amend the Encryption Act – which Labor supported – while it is currently being reviewed by the PJCIS.
“So here we have Senator Keneally, along with the Australian Labor Party, not only voting for the initial legislation that she now condemns, but also supporting the committee being given extra time to consider elements that might be required to amend the legislation,” Abetz said.
“And yet she comes in here today to, first of all, deny that she voted for the legislation in the first place, and now she's in here with this tawdry attempt to circumvent the committee inquiry.”
The PJCIS had the length of its review into the Encryption Act extended and will hand down its recommendations by the end of September.
Greens senator, Nick McKim, said his party would support the amendments but called the actions of the major parties on rushing the Encryption Act “quite reprehensible”.
“The government should not have proceeded with the legislation as it did, knowing full well the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security,” McKim said.
“But neither should Labor have rolled over and allowed the government to tickle their collective tummy on this issue.”
McKim echoed Keneally’s sentiments that the Encryption Act has caused harm to the tech sector.
“Not only does this act – that is, the original act passed by the government with Labor's support – attack the fundamental rights of people to privacy and the security of Australia's digital economy and our community, it also dealt a significant blow to Australia's tech sector,” McKim said.
“With Australian companies and coders forced to write the snitch ware, Australian-based tech companies are losing sales and other commercial opportunities. Many are actively considering either moving offshore or employing only offshore coders.”
The bill to amend the Encryption Act will be voted on in the senate at a later date.