Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

The “Who needs a real warrant anymore bill 2008” (Cth)

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-04-18

No wonder groups interested in privacy and networks are complaining to the Senate about the “Who needs a real warrant anymore?” bill (sorry, the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Bill 2008 (Cth))!  Here is a potted summary of the bulk of the bill and some of the submissions so far: It’s little more than a search/replace macro with the following being very common macro steps:

  • Omit “a particular”, substitute “any”.
  • Omit “a telecommunications device identified in the warrant”, substitute “any telecommunications device”.
  • Omit “a telecommunications device identified in the warrant”, substitute “any telecommunications device that the person is using, or is likely to use”.

This seems a bit much when the main purpose of the bill is supposedly to extend sunset clauses by 18 months… as declared here:

The bill will amend the TIA Act to extend the sunset provisions which apply to the definitions of when a communication is ‘passing over’ a telecommunications network, as well as the definition of an ‘intended recipient’ of a communication by a further 18 months. The current provisions are set to sunset on 13 June 2008.

Various privacy commissioners, law councils, human rights schools in law faculties, etc, etc have made a lot of good comments, including how to reword the bill so that the intent of improved security is met without throwing out controls over the executive.  I’d agree from my reading that the needs for judicial oversight have been overlooked (by incompetence or malice) when drafting the bill.

This is troubling… Rudd isn’t as light a "Howard-light" as we thought.

The quality of the report from this inquiry, and the improvements (or lack of them) to the bill will give a good idea of how committed to good governance and the rule of law are the new government and the new opposition.

See Also:

  • Inquiry page for the bill.
  • List of submissions.
    • The AFP spends half of the submission saying "we know how to protect ourself from malicious email", and the other half giving a potted history of various versions of the act… weird!
    • Vic Police say "the amendment merely provides a means of obtaining evidence in a more timely manner than is currently possible under the existing legislation" and (contrary to the human rights commissioners) asset that "There are ample accountability mechanisms".  This from an organization with a pretty shocking history of keeping information limited to the eyes supposed to see it!
  • Greens media release (2008-04-17) titled "No blank cheque for police and spies’ phone-taps: Brown".  Nice headlines, pity about the quality of argument.
  • Andrew Bartlett of the Australian Democrats (2008-04-17) has put my worries well:

    One can argue the merits or otherwise of this move, but it always makes me more suspicious (not to mention irritated) when – as on this occasion – the government tries to pretend that they are just fixing up ‘drafting errors’ or merely ‘clarifying’ what was allegedly the original intent of previous changes.

    He also sounds shocked by some statistics showing that even before this new legislation

    on a per capita basis, an Australian telephone was 23 times more likely to be bugged than an American telephone


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