Encryption bill becomes law after Labor backdown

Laws rushed through parliament

The government was handed a last-minute victory yesterday, with opposition leader Bill Shorten and shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus scrapping plans to amend controversial encryption legislation.

Much of the controversy has centred on Schedule 1 of the legislation, which creates a new tiered system of notices that can be issued to communications service providers. Technical Assistance Requests are requests for voluntary cooperation. Technical Assistance Notices are legally binding directions for a service provider to use its existing capabilities to assist a police or security agency in some manner.

Technical Capability Notices are a direction from the government to build “to do acts or things directed towards ensuring that the provider is capable of giving certain types of help to ASIO or an interception agency” — essentially building a new capability to facilitate an investigation.

Both the legislation in general and the government’s rush to pass it before Christmas generated significant alarm among privacy advocates, tech companies and representatives of the legal profession, with concerns that it could undermine security of online communications services.

Amid farcical scenes yesterday as the government sought to avoid a humiliating legislative defeat relating to medical transfers for asylum seekers by adjourning the House of Representatives, Labor said it would vote for the unamended encryption bill in the Senate.

“We think that the bill does need to go forward but we offer to let it go forward without the amendments that are needed, without the amendments that are required to make it conform to the agreement reached between the government and Labor, provided the government agrees next - at the very next sitting day of the parliament to pass the amendments that we say are needed,” Dreyfus said at the press conference.

“The government produced draft amendments to Labor early this morning,” the shadow attorney-general told the House of Representatives earlier yesterday.

“It's anticipated that those amendments will be moved in the Senate. On that basis, I commend the bill to this House for passage in this House—I say again on the basis that the amendments encompassing the recommendations of the intelligence committee will be moved in the Senate.”

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Rohan Pearce

Rohan Pearce

Computerworld
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