Australian intelligence and law enforcement agencies already issued notices under the ‘Assistance and Access’ Act despite opposition from industry groups

3 min read

The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018, passed on December 6, 2018, has been put into action recently by the Australian intelligence and law enforcement agencies. However, a few industry groups, academics and civil liberties campaigners opposed by saying that the AA legislation makes Australians less safe by stripping away foundational concepts of privacy and may have a significantly detrimental impact on Australian tech companies.

In spite of this opposition, the legislation is not only active but the intelligence agencies actively using its provisions and several notices too have been issued under this new law.

With the AA act, the legislation’s aim is to allow intelligence agencies and some law enforcement to pry open encrypted messages in particular cases, especially where it concerned national security. The government has consistently argued the legislation makes Australians safer.

“The legislation is being actively used by law enforcement and security agencies in a number of investigations to keep Australia safe”, a government spokesperson reported. “The legislation in no way compromises the security of any Australians’ digital communications”, he added.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) is currently reviewing the provisions of the legislation and the report for the same will be released in April. According to InnovationAus, “A collective of academics and industry groups, including the Communications Alliance, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), and the Information Technology Professionals Association (ITPA), have recently made a joint submission to the PJCIS recommending a raft of changes.”

This group has criticized how the powers under the Act are unnecessarily broad and vague and have called for the need to introduce greater judicial oversight, particularly around the issuing of notices by agencies.

Vanessa Teague, an associate professor in cryptography at the University of Melbourne, said, “Without that specific [technical] proposal, we just can’t have a rational and grounded discussion about what those unintended consequences is going to be because they depend on what the proposal is.”

During the same panel discussion, Suelette Dreyfus, executive director of Blueprint for Free Speech described the introduction of the Act as a “zero-sum game between the privacy of individuals and the powers of the state”.

Dreyfus said, “This coalition has been built and is being fortified and strengthened. It’s not only civil society within Australia or technical experts in Australia, it’s internationally as well with international academic experts and leading NGOs in the technical and legal space in places like Washington and London.” “[These people are] are liaising with us and working with us because they are very concerned that what happens in Australia will spread like a bad case of the measles to the digital privacy rights overseas”, she added.

To know more about the AA Act in detail, visit the Australian government’s official website.

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