Civil liberties group lashes e-mail, SMS intercept law

Summary:Civil liberties group Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) has expressed concern over the erosion of individual privacy if the Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill makes it into law.EFA executive director Irene Graham, said the amendment would remove all protection on users' privacy and private e-mails and SMS messages would be easily accessible by government agencies.

Civil liberties group Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) has expressed concern over the erosion of individual privacy if the Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill makes it into law.

EFA executive director Irene Graham, said the amendment would remove all protection on users' privacy and private e-mails and SMS messages would be easily accessible by government agencies.

"We believe this legislation should not be passed. The government claims that the current legislation is unclear so rather than clarifying the need for an interception warrant, they are removing all requirements to get an interception warrant," she said.

The Attorney-General's office introduced a Bill in 2002 which allows government agencies to intercept and read the contents of communications passing over a telecommunications system, that are delayed and stored in transit, without a warrant of any type.

The Bill was rejected by the Senate in June 2002. However, the government said it would try again to have the amendment passed in a future Bill.

Under current law, an interception warrant is required to access such messages, the same as is required to intercept a telephone call.

Although the bill will be up for review after 12 months, Graham feels it will be too late to retract the damage done by then.

"We believe the review should be done first and not in 12 months. That's just not good enough. Hundreds, even thousands of people's privacy can be interfered within 12 months. Once the law is changed, it is harder to get it back. Once one's privacy is lost, it can never be regained," Graham told ZDNet Australia.

Graham said they are disappointed that the Labor Party has decided to back the amendment after opposing it in the past.

"We are extremely disappointed with Labor party's apparent attitude change. However, this remains to be seen when the issue is debated. This new amendment is worse than the one introduced and rejected in 2002. We've done all we can. Maybe the Labor party have become too frightened so they're just going to pass it," she said.

Graham added that another major concern is the elimination of restrictions on how long the collected information will be kept by the government agency and to what extent it will be used.

"When agencies get an interception warrant there is a whole lot of accountability on the operational restrictions attached to the information collected, like how long they can keep it and what they can use it for. With the bill, none of those protections will apply. The government agency will be able to use the collected information for anything they want and for as long as they like," she said.

Graham said that the "problem [which the Bill seeks to address] is not urgent," contrary to the government's reason for pushing ahead.

"They have had two years to sort this out and they've failed to do so. The fact that the government failed to do anything about this is not justification for removing the protection of privacy. They should have been looking into this two years ago."

The Bill is said to be due for debate in the Senate tomorrow.

Topics: Tech Industry, Government : AU

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