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New digital wiretap Bill – why you should be worried

August 26, 2011

news.com.au

Privacy

Australia is one step closer to passing the controversial Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. Picture: Thinkstock Source: Supplied

A NEW “digital wiretap” law that would let police force companies like Telstra to store copies of emails and text messages has come under fire from civil rights advocates.

The Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill was passed in the House of Representatives this week after being introduced in June. It will now be debated in the Senate.

The Bill would let authorities issue a “preservation notice” to telco companies forcing them to keep copies of a suspect’s digital communications for up to 90 days while police applied for a warrant to access the data.

It would also extend the scope of existing cyber offences and allow for increased information-sharing between Australia and foreign countries.

The Bill was drafted to bring Australia in line with the European Convention on Cybercrime, to which over 40 countries are signatories, including the US, UK, Canada and Japan.

Greens senator Scott Ludlum said Australia needed to take cybercrime legislation seriously, but the Bill provided too much room for information-sharing between foreign governments.

“Many of us live our lives online these days, whether we know it or like it or not,” Mr Ludlum told news.com.au.

“Every credit card transaction, every phone call, every email, every web page that you visit, everybody that you speak to, the vast number of surveillance cameras that are now in place in our major metros and so on — all this material, potentially, can be archived and then data-mined.

“We’re concerned enough about the privacy impact of Australia’s law enforcement agencies doing that.

“I don’t want to write out a blank check to the Ukrainian police or Polish police or the Chinese police for that matter. Not that they’re a signatory to this convention, but you can see where this goes, for this information to be accessed.

“I think that’s why we’ve got to tread carefully.”

Michael Copeland, president of the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties, told news.com.au the Bill was just another form of wire-tapping and its powers would be overused.

“Once we put these provisions in (the Bill) in, it’s quite clear the Australian Government will use them with gay abandon,” he said.

Mr Copeland said Australia already issued more tap warrants per capita than the US.

“Based on 2004-2005 statistics, we (Australia) issued 2283 telephone tap warrants in that year,” he said.

“We have a population of what, 22 million? The US has a population of 300 million, and it issued 1174, which is just ridiculous.

“It’s just extraordinary that we can issue 20 more formal warrants than the US does per capita.

“What exactly great crime problems we have more of than the US that justifies this Bill is beyond me.”

“It’s just extraordinary that we can issue 20 more formal warrants than the US does per capita.”

Mr Copeland said he was concerned the legislation would permit the Government to share information even in cases where the person being charged was facing the death penalty.

“Our view is Australia shouldn’t be providing information to assist in death penalty cases unless the government to whom we’re giving it has agreed not to seek the death penalty,” he said.

“Otherwise we’re just going to have more Bali Nines.”

The Government, however, says the Bill already contains safeguards against sharing data with countries which support the death penalty.

“The Act states that a request for assistance must be refused where a person has been charged with or convicted of a death penalty offence unless there are special circumstances,” said a spokesperson for Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

“Also a request may be refused where it may result in the death penalty being imposed on a person — for example, where the request is made at the investigation stage.”

Mr McClelland’s department told news.com.au that international collaboration was necessary to effectively combat cybercrime, which has already overtaken the drug trade as the world’s most profitable form of crime.

Earlier this month a joint committee inquiry into the Bill returned a report suggesting several changes to the legislation.

Senator Ludlam said the committee’s suggested amendments were not addressed in the House of Representatives.

“We were pretty pleased with the unanimous report that was handed down by the Cyber Safety Committee,” he said.

“Our main ask of the Government at the moment is to read it.”

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