The Week Ahead 4 – changes to telecommunications interception laws

There is no doubt that the existing Telecommunications (Interception) Act is outdated. Legislation to amend this Act has been put forward by the government and is due to be debated this week. A Senate Committee report has just been tabled, which can be found through this link, along with submissions and transcripts of evidence.

The matters contained in the legislation are often technical, but some of the key aspects include:
a) rules governing access to stored communications held by a telecommunications carrier;
b) enabling the interception of communications of a person known to communicate with a person of interest (the so-called ‘B-party interception warrants’);
c) enabling interception of telecommunications services on the basis of a telecommunications device;
d) removing existing distinctions governing offences for which various telecommunications interception powers are available to law enforcement agencies.

Many of these powers already exist in various ways, so to the extent that the powers are clarified, (as opposed to expanded), this is a good thing.

The area that causes me most concern is the ‘b party’ warrants, where a person who is not a suspect can have a warrant issued to intercept their communications where they may have communications with someone who is a suspect.

An article by George Williams and David Hume from the Gilbert and Tobin Centre of Public Law at the University of New South Wales outlines the concerns very well.

The Bill will allow the Government to read our private emails, SMSs and other stored communications, without our knowledge. The power will extend even to innocent people, called B-parties, if they have been unlucky enough to communicate with someone who is suspected of a crime, or of being a threat to national security.

The Government should sometimes be able to monitor the communications of innocent people. This may be necessary to protect the wider community, where a suspect can only be tracked down through another person. However, the Bill goes far beyond what can be justified and undermines our right to privacy more than is needed to properly enforce the law.

Our key concerns are that, first, the Government will be able to collect not only the communications between the B-party and the suspect, but also communications between the B-party and anyone else…… no matter what you spoke about. Your most private and intimate conversations could be pored over, without your knowledge, by people you have never met.

Second, in some circumstances the Government can use the information it collects even though that information is irrelevant to the original suspect.

Third, the Bill sets a very low threshold for ASIO to be granted a warrant.

Fourth, the threshold that ASIO must satisfy uses general terms, such as ‘likely to assist’ and ‘relating to security’.

The Committee’s report contains over 25 recommendations to improve the legislation, including some that go to the concerns raised above. It remains to be seen if the government will take up any or all of these.


The legislation has now passed. The government put forward some amendments and have claimed that these reflect acting on 11 of 28 receommndations from the Senate Committee report. I don’t know the detail well enough to know how accurate this claim is, although past experience means I am sceptical.

A short report in the Sydney Morning Herald can be found here. As noted in a comment below, there is also an item on Club Troppo about this issue, as well as a follow up piece.

George Williams & David Hume have done another article assessing the impacts of the final version of the legislation.

A further issue is how the law distinguishes between stored and real-time communications such as telephone conversations. It is easier to monitor stored communications, apparently because they are seen as less private than telephone conversations. However, now that telephone conversations often occur in public on mobile phones, many people reserve their most personal interactions for email and text messages. It is nonsensical that our personal affairs are made less private because they are in an email rather than said over the phone.

These problems have been compounded because the Government rushed the law through Parliament without taking into account advice from its own ranks. A Senate committee examining the bill unanimously found last Monday that the powers were too extensive. It recommended strengthening protection against misuse. The Government’s own Blunn report on the area also suggested stronger protection. Despite these warnings, the law does not incorporate the recommended safeguards. Indeed, amendments made to the law over the past week widened its reach.

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  1. They Do all that anyway. I guess they just thought they needed a rubber stamp with veiws of possible convictions court cases possibly in the future. In QLD you have the CJC and NSW ICAC or whatever they call themselves. Then you have all the special agencies.
    They can probably see the need down the track to be able to use this as evidence in court or to hold a person who is sus of being a danger to the Country. Before anybody jumps down my throat I did not say I agreed with it.I guess in the long run it might pan out as even if the laws are used to protect us and for drug pushers and not set ups which is often the case.
    I just said they do it anyway.
    Always have. The Federal Department rocks up with heaps of warrants to tap phones all the time. nobody even reads them much.
    Oh [here say] of course.

  2. I agree with Wendy Lewthwaite’s summation about the government’s intention to legally ‘rubber-stamp’to commit invasion of all citizens’ privacy. The Coalition of the Willing did not simply constitute the invasion of Iraq.
    The New World Order has already been established, with references to such now being publicly accessible since leaks from the Hague (or Brussels – I cannot now remember) were made public knowledge several years ago. It is no longer a conspiracy theory.
    The construct of this will be in the form of the symbolic pyramid. Never mind ‘pyramid selling’. ‘Democratising’ the world is a furfy, designed to deceive, as the reconstruction of all legislation by essentially conservatives (the wealthy powerbrokers of big business), who will blindly privatise every asset and public utility of every country, re-direct profits from sales, fudge figures of contract prices – as has happened with re-construction projects in Iraq by Halliburton, with millions of dollars being dispersed to company CEO’s, and AWB (which has been dumped in the fire by an astute government, which deflected strategically and opportunistically its knowlege of transportation money for wheat contracts going to Saddam’s regime, by a timely privatising of this government asset to avoid fallout and scrutiny).
    As the US dictates it Free Trade programme, including ownership of Telecommunications and Media (changes in Cross-Media ownership laws also being on the government agenda), the world is being divided into specific regions.
    Echelon, the US’s national security spy organisation, is probably already active in this country, which brings me to my point.
    Not only is the government capable of accessing paedophilia on the Internet, but complicitly allows it to exist, via ISP’s, which it can scrutinise any time it wants. I cannot begin to imagine the amount of revenue already raised from this social pariah, but we can all surmise the potential amount acquisited from revenue of cigarette sales since the post-WW11 period. That revenue raiser pales into insignificance with paedophilia, by comparison.
    Telecommunications covers all parameters, not only privacy issues, but electoral issues, especially.
    There are many people who vote via the Internet, and I have long held the suspicion that the government is quite capable of intercepting voter privilege, especially before the last election when a collaboration with US intelligence conveniently managed to weed out a paedophile ring, to console the voters into believing that something was being done about this scurge, and now of course, the lame attempt to divert attention once again, by introducing filters in public access centres, interestingly, where virtually no accessing of pornography is practised. Every website has an ISP, so why not simply require all ISP’s to have filters? Instead, the government is leaving that choice up to the ISP’s. Strange indeed.
    I also suspected interception capability by government ever since a Howard government sponsored telephone poll of voters throughout the country, being asked a list of twenty questions before his first or second term in office. It was during the Pauline Hanson period, and approximately, the fifth, sixth or seventh question blatantly asked if one would vote for Pauline Hanson. At that point, I hung up, realising that my privacy was being invaded. How dare any government try to ascertain voting information that is meant to be private!
    The issue with Telecommunications, as mentioned by Wendy and believed by myself, is that interception already exists, and that legislation is to give mandate and justification to that which is still secretive and covert. Could it be that demanding all public access centres have filters, be more to do with elections, and voting?
    The change in Electoral donations will assure that those with money, not integrity, will continue to rule the nest, unless a financial campaign of enormous proportion is collaboratively activated by those of integrity from all sides of the political spectrum, to change the social face of this country – with clear and precise expectations of fundamental values being the foundation cornerstone. And, also to reveal collectively, through the publicity machine and television, nationally, the extent of lies we have sufferred politically, and for people to realise that they will not lose out by rejecting the manipulation that currently exists. In other words, to show how important it is to collectively change our social face, without loss of lifestyle and liberties.
    When Gough Whitlam could not access funds from the Reserve Bank, to implement programmes of reform, back in 1975, was this an indication that only imperialistic conservatives were destined to rule this country, creating a massive pool of unemployment, workers on low wages and a massive volunteer workforce, to increase international investment and ownership – as per required by the World Bank, due to our never-before known national debt to that corrupt establishment?
    I hope this is not too demanding of your time Senator Bartlett, but while only small steps are slowly taken to rectify and stall some legislations, the bigger cogs in the wheel are operating swiftly. Current protests in France, regarding those under 26, are testimony to that country’s political intent, in line with US demands of the EU, and now also Australian and British policies.
    Telecommunications ownership without accountability poses one of the biggest risks in the decline of civil liberties and democracy. It could become reminiscent of McCarthyism.
    Singapore is another current target of US hedgemony, as it acquisits Thailand’s telecommunications.
    I am not so naive to believe that in the end it may be essential and necessary to go down this path, for the sake of national security, and would appreciate feedback if you have time. However, I stress that the US has created the monster of ‘fear’ throughout the world, with political interference in every corner, for the purpose of resource stealing, like the greedy schoolyard bully it is.
    I just personally believe that all citizens have the right to know the truth about motive, and not be subjected to paternalistic autocracy. It does not matter if predatory or terrorist groups know truth. That is the strength of a country and any leadership.
    As a woman in a very high position in the US government, responsible for organising contracts for reconstruction work in Iraq (and who has been demoted because of her honesty and her discovery of missing billions), lamented on Foreign Correspondent last night, that “integrity in goverment is not an option”.
    This letter has been therapeutically purging for me, as I do a lot of research, but realise it is just the tip of the iceberg. It is frustrating to think that a. Australians are really cowards and refuse to see the obvious, or b. that darker forces in the form of telecommunications interception are responsible for electoral results.

  3. Deborah . Wow Want a job? The AWB you mentioned also own the live exports they purchased in 2003 29th August. Its the best kept secret in Australia. kevin rudd headed for the hills when this was raised and so forh etc. I am sure you nowhow it goes.Given the 60 minutes report and the public feelings about live exports> Wouldnt a few million like that info.
    its may have been half excepted that 300 million went to Sadam throug wheat but it would be a different matter if thde public knew it was bood money from Live Exports
    Thats is my email address . There is something I would like to inform you about off line . Hope to hear back from you.It so good to find someone who understands the real world. There may not be a lot of posts in reply to you but I am sure you are not surprised.

  4. The reason the government wants to surveil innocent associates of terror suspects is because they are more apt to release information than are the suspects themselves. The government would also be aware that it only needs to surveil 20% of all traffic of interest to have a good chance of revealing all of the targets’ secrets.

    Please see this fascinating white paper on the Economics of Mass Surveillance.

  5. Ugly, ugly, ugly.
    The DIMIA-isation of Australia.
    Just reading it makes you feel raped, violated; disempowered.
    What sick b……s most of our politicians are!
    Beazley is as sick, miserable and mean as Howard and Ruddock and the other hobbesian neo-cons on the other side concerning these sorts of issues.
    Funny how the REALLY ugly stuff always below the radar.
    Andrew, thanks for including the Williams and Hume summary.

  6. Paul – I don’t think this is somethign to totally blame the politicians for. I suspect it is more the spies and assorted others seizing the day to just make their job easier. I just don’t think the pollies are bright enought to be sitting around thinking up wasy to improve thinsg they don’t actually do ie the work of others.

    I dont support this additional legilsation eitehr.

  7. Ken, your scepticism is worthwhile.
    However, Deborah Carey’s comments concerning the treatment a US official received blowing the whistle on the depth and extent of corruption as per Iraq, as also reported on ABC’s Foreign Correspondent this week, involve something darker.
    Corruption in Iraq may not be merely accidental or incidental. Rather it appears systemic and points to US foreign policy commandeered for no less than the ransacking of Iraq, at the cost to Iraqi’s of $20 billion. It reachesthe point where even the sincerity of the original pretexts employed for intervening become open to scrutiny in retrospect, not only as per judgement but integrity.
    By coincidence, SBS “Dateline” presented an equally disturbing report the following night on serial corruption WITHIN the US, exemplified by now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abrahamoff.
    As for Australia, this very morning the “Weekend Age” had a report concerning Victorian treasurer Brumby’s disavowal of a report critical of the way big infrastructure projects are tendered and funded. As the NSW roads/tunnels debacle demonstrates, the evolved system may be systemically bad rather than typified by isolated incidents. Citizens are entitled to wonder what they have become saddled with and the future costs will be.
    Something that in’t fallible where occasional mistakes happen- or something weak enough to be copted by a midset that ensures corruption is the norm?
    If our (western) system has become rotten to the core it is worthwhile to oppose increased surveillance legislation, since this must be inevitably be conscripted from its original security intentions to the policing of dissent.
    As per this issue, the federal government has also showing a disturbing tendency dating back to Webb Dock; through kids overboard and DIMIA, to the current Wool Board fiasco, that indicates them to be no more capable of responsible use of increased powers than than the rest of the above mentioned, either.
    Ken, how welcome is your comment, “I don’t support this additional legislation, either”.
    Like myself, you have adopted an “organic” conservative response in this that should be “stock”. It militates against frivolous change on the basis of capricious and dubious reasons, faulty reasoning and questionable motives (at the least!).
    Radicals might not be so easily blamed for suggesting that the system is SO rotten than nothing short of overthrow is required given the current circumstances. Time will tell, I suppose.

  8. My biggest problem with the new legislation (and I have a few) is that it does away with any semblence of consideration for professional privelage. I was glad to see an analysis of the new act come up as an assignment for our second year media class. There’s still some folks out there who notice things like this as theygo by.

  9. I was under the mistaken impression that under Australian law, one’s papers could not be searched and seized unless one was reasonably suspected to have committed a crime.

    I guess Howard & Ruddock now figure that the mere act of sending an email is now reasonable cause for suspicion of a person committing an offence.

    The mood of the Attorney General must not be the tipping point for one being treated like a criminal.

    If this isn’t fascism, what on earth is it?

    If now isn’t the time for a Bill of Rights for Australia, just exactly when should we get serious about pushing the point?

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