ACS and other industry bodies have called for significant changes to the way electronic surveillance is performed and authorised in Australia.

The comments are a response to the Department of Home Affairs’ current review of the electronic surveillance framework in Australia, particularly the Reform of Australia’s electronic surveillance framework Discussion Paper produced by the DHA.

The review follows the somewhat unflattering 2020 Richardson Review of Australia’s surveillance processes by the Attorney General’s Department.

It also follows the controversial Telecommunication and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 that required IT companies and professionals to provide assistance to law enforcement agencies when requested.

“Australian ICT companies need to be able to compete fairly on the world stage and we can’t do that when government legislation requires IT professionals to break their own products in order to comply with government assistance requests,” said ACS President, Dr Nick Tate.

ACS’ response highlighted some the major issues with the current system, according to Dr Tate.

ACS says anti-corruption agencies should have access to the same surveillance systems as other law enforcement; that compliance demands on smaller businesses be reduced; and that all surveillance orders should be authorised by independent authorities such as courts supported by public interest advocates.

ACS has also called on the government to stop ‘deputising’ IT companies and professionals, saying that decisions about who and how to monitor should be left with agencies, not IT companies.

“Fundamentally, surveillance activities should be driven from within government agencies, not outsourced through mandatory compliance laws to unaffiliated IT companies and professionals,” said Dr Tate.

“If government currently lacks the skills and capabilities to do that, then it should be making investing in those skills and capabilities more of a priority.”

ACS was not the only industry body to take a stand on the issue of electronic surveillance in Australia.

A joint letter addressed to Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews from The Internet Association of Australia, Communications Alliance, Australian Information Industry Association, the Internet of Things Alliance Australia, Digital Rights Watch and Electronic Frontiers Australia called on the government to shift the balance back to the protection of citizens.

“We were concerned that the extent of the review was such that it was important to establish any common concerns and express them,” said Narelle Clark, CEO of the Internet Association of Australia.

“The Home Affairs paper suggests the potential for a mass surveillance system and this requires an extremely high degree of care, so we wanted to present a united front on the areas where we all wanted to see improvement.”

The letter called on the government to better balance public interest in its surveillance activities.

“The proposed framework may fail to balance its objectives of better protecting individual information and data, as well as providing a clear and transparent Act that will facilitate industry’s compliance, in favour of extending powers for law enforcement agencies and ASIO,” the response noted.

“We emphasise that it is essential that any framework be founded on the key principles of real need, proportionality, reasonableness, and accountability, and the utmost respect for human rights, including the importance of maintaining personal freedom with minimum state supervision and surveillance.”

The group called for an end to warrantless approval systems and for access to electronic surveillance systems to be restricted to ASIO and agencies involved in criminal law enforcement.

“Agencies focusing on revenue protection should not be able to directly access data,” it argued.

The letter also highlighted issues with collection of data from IoT devices and the definition of metadata in the government’s proposed framework.