It’s no surprise that the the tech community is up in arms over the passing of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) bill last week. There is widespread concern that the bill will result in Australians working for technology companies will lose jobs here and abroad and that products and services developed here will no longer be trusted by the international community. A group of tech companies has come together to fix the flaws in the bill.
The collection of technology companies, coming together under the banner of “Reform Government Surveillance” (RGS), says they want governments around the world to “adopt surveillance laws and practices that are consistent with established norms of privacy, free expression, and the rule of law”. The collective includes Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google amongst its ten members.
In an announcement, RGS says “The new Australian law is deeply flawed, overly broad, and lacking in adequate independent oversight over the new authorities”.
The group’s commitment is to protect the privacy and data security of users while promoting free expression and the free flow of information around the world. The clearly see the Assistance and Access Bill and being counter to that mission.
With the tech sector reeling over the new laws – I’d suggest the industry is still in shock that such a flawed bill could make it past a junior staffer’s office let alone the entire parliament – the large tech companies could have the power to lobby for the legislation to be amended.
Last week, before the law was passed, I wrote to every member of the federal House of Representatives asking them to reconsider voting for the new laws. I received one response – and it was not my local member with whom I’d had a dialog over email regarding the matter.
The one parliamentarian who responded said Labor was faced with two choices. They could either vote with the cross-bench to pass their amendments in the Senate, and wait until the House of Representatives returns next year to pass the amended bill; or vote with the government in the Senate to pass the laws without amendments to ensure that security agencies have appropriate powers over the holiday period.
As we know, Labor rolled over and chose option B. In return for supporting the bill the government agreed to allow time for Labor’s amendments to be debated and voted on in the first week of Parliament next year (12 February 2019). There’s also an immediate referral to the Intelligence Committee so that parliamentary scrutiny of this legislation can continue. That committee will report before next year’s election.