Interception overhaul may OK ISP spying

Interception overhaul may OK ISP spying

Summary: The Federal Government is planning a radical overhaul of telecommunications interception rules, which has some concerned it may be used to force internet service providers (ISP) to inspect customers' online activities.


The Federal Government is planning a radical overhaul of telecommunications interception rules, which has some concerned it may be used to force internet service providers (ISP) to inspect customers' online activities.

The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Bill 2009 — Network Protection contains legislation designed to extend interception powers from certain government agencies to any Australian network operator. The Bill is currently scheduled to appear before Parliament for debate prior to mid-December.

In late July the Attorney General's Department (AGD) released its discussion paper outlining the government's proposed changes to the Act. The government intends to introduce the amendments as a temporary exemption from the Act for some government agencies and will expire on 12 December.

The proposed amendments would exempt any network operator from interception prohibitions if it was conducting security protection measures that might include inspecting incoming traffic. Under current legislation, it is illegal under most circumstances to intercept inbound communications before it has reached its intended recipient with the offence punishable by up to two years' imprisonment.

While the AGD's paper positioned the changes as a way to counter, for example, data breaches, denial of service or malware attacks, internet user advocate group Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) was concerned the amendments were in part an effort to remove restrictions on an ISP that prevented it from inspecting its customer's internet habits.

"It looks like it's part of a push to permit and require ISPs to monitor what's going through their network," EFA spokesperson Geordie Guy told

Guy also noted the extremely short notice of 14 days the public was given to respond to the proposed changes.

The gap in legislation, which AGD said in its paper that it wanted to close, was concerned about how information gathered under network protection duties could be used or disclosed to a third party, for example, if it were to be used as evidence in a court case.

Earlier this year Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy called iiNet's defence in the Federal Court case brought against it by the Australian Federation against Copyright Theft a joke worthy of a Yes Minister episode. "The capacity to ignore what the customers are doing and claim no responsibility is being tested in court right now," he said. "It could be a ground-breaking case."

EFA's submission to the AGD paper noted that the Copyright Act's safe harbour provision says that an ISP was not required to monitor customer activity, and as iiNet has said it intends to argue, was illegal under the Telecommunications Act.

Topics: Security, Government AU, Telcos

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • I can olny respond with:
  • Bye-Bye privacy and freedom ...

    What a great idea to" inspect customers' online activities" and spy on them!
    Perhaps the Government should start "inspecting" all our phone calls and letters... then our pockets and homes...
    Where are we going? Are we becoming a police state? Where do all the freedoms go? Freedoms, that people were fighting for for centuries...
  • Thanks for the FUD

    Come on Liam, did you even bothered to read the proposed amendments? I highly doubt it, because you had you would have known that what you've written is pure FUD.

    The discussion paper is only 14 pages long (with a lot of white space so don't be scared), personally I actually took the time to read it and don't see any issues with it at all. It's got nothing to do with ISPs monitoring end customer traffic and has to do with networks (company networks, etc) being able to intercept the ingoing and outgoing traffic of their employees so they can enforce their own security measures effectively. Or to put it another way, if one of their employees is committing a crime they are able to investigate without commiting a felony themselves.$file/Discussion+Paper.pdf
  • It's the unintended implications you need to worry about.


    You need to realise that it is not about whether the original intention of the act is sensible, honourable or innocuous. The real dangers lie in the way such pieces of legislation can be misused and twisted to serve purposes that in time will have nothing to do with the original intent. Imprecise wording, ill-defined limits and boundaries or broad definitions of technologies can give rise to a dangerous tool of control and intimidation.
  • Hello 1984

    i would think that this could be the first step into a world like 1984, you sneeze and they'll know about it.
    is this what the intention of the internet is? to spy on your fellow people within your country and make their privacy limited to back alley conversations?

    i beleive the internet shouldn't be restricted, controlled. it seems the government wants to take "some" controll of what goes in and out of the country. sure their intentions may be good, but what happens if another party comes in or something stirs up the controlling party into taking drastic measures that could change the way we use the internet.

    the internet was and still (with some crap exceptions) a place for new idea's, communication, communities, fun, games and etc...
    so why don't they see that. i know thier is another side to the internet but why should normal people be watched, spied on and possibly be charged with something they thought was right or ok to do over the net, while someone or a system is monitoring them.

    as some of you know, recently The Australian Federal Government was pushing forward with its plan to force Internet Service Providers to censor the Internet for all Australians. if this were to come about we would surely be outraged. who likes censorship? anyone? put your hand up if you do! because i surly don't!
    If you controll the internet, you can control the flow of information (including news, events etc..). i beleive that all intentions start off good but as a quote in 1984 - "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
    things can get out of hand.

    in conclusion (i know i rambled on) i hope people will do the right thing and rise up and voice our opinion, while will still have the freedom of speech... speak up its free and can save the internet from being a 1984.

    remember... geeks may seem quiet or in their own little worlds, but we will not stand for this.
  • Might i just add

    i must not forget (and i am sorry i left it out haha)
    one name:

    Julius Caesar.

    The Luddite controlling our Telecommunications facilities..WHO ELSE you may ask..None other than the dumb turkey, our dopey politician .... Conroy. Absolute power...DOES corrupt, absolutely! They never learn.
  • More FUD

    Did you bother to read the discussion paper and amendments? Same as Liam I doubt it.

    There are posters below saying about how this is Conroy's evil plan, I don't see Conroy mentioned anywhere, rather this is from the Attorney General.

    While I agree this is worthy of discussion and debate, I feel it would be far more beneficial if people actually bothered to read the thing being talked about and didn't make random speculations on it.
  • Encryption will become a way of life.

    With PCs already overworked dealing with Java code, Flash and other non-necessities, they will now require a new order of power to encrypt/decrypt on-the-fly as well.