Senate passes net interception Bill

Summary:The Senate has passed a Bill that will allow network operators — including ISPs — to intercept traffic as part of "network protection activities" disregarding the Greens Party efforts to amend it.

The Senate has passed a Bill that will allow network operators — including ISPs — to intercept traffic as part of "network protection activities" disregarding the Greens Party efforts to amend it.

Senator Scott Ludlam

Senator Scott Ludlam
(Credit: Greens Party)

The Bill, the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Bill 2009, aims to help network operators to understand what they can and cannot do in terms of interception.

It will allow, for example, an ISP network engineer to intercept a customer's connection when undertaking activities to "operate, maintain and protect" their network.

The Bill had been criticised by privacy advocates for attempting to loosen restrictions stopping ISPs from spying on users. A later amended Bill was then welcomed.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam today pushed for amendments to be passed that would strengthen the Bill so "curiosity" didn't get the better of those operators which might misuse the new law. Amendments he pushed for included defining what "network protection duties" and "disciplinary actions" were. Nowhere in the Bill did it state what those activities might include. This was something Ludlam believed needed to be defined to remove some of the "ambiguity" of the Bill.

"We had a list of things [in the amendments] that said 'it includes these activities'," Ludlam told ZDNet.com.au. "But unfortunately the government couldn't even bring itself to that and the Opposition made a big song and dance about standing up and saying 'this is actually very true and is a big problem but we won't amend the Bill'."

Another issue Ludlam raised with the Bill was the fact it didn't mention explicitly that copies of intercepted data had to be deleted once used; only original intercepted data had to be deleted.

"The only thing I'd consider a loophole is the fact that agencies that are intercepting communications — or whoever is doing that — don't have any obligations to destroy copies of the records after they're no longer of use," he said. "I think that we could've fixed that ... and that's an opportunity we've missed."

When Ludlam tried to push his unsuccessful amendments in the Senate today, the government, represented by Senator Joe Ludwig, suggested those unfamiliar with what "network protections activities" were to contact the Attorney-General for a definition.

This suggestion was "a surreal proposition", Ludlam said. He said he wanted to define what it might include, suggesting a judge might need to know if the Act was ever brought into a court room.

Topics: Government : AU

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