Australian Greens succeed in bid to establish surveillance inquiry

After a handful of previous attempts, the Greens party has finally gained an inquiry into the Telecommunications Act that will look at surveillance conducted in Australia.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The ALP and Greens have set up an inquiry into the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (TIA) that will look into the surveillance of Australian citizens allowed under the Act, despite the Coalition government opposing the move.

Senator Scott Ludlam has been pushing for an inquiry for some time, and today in the Senate, he said that the need has "never been more urgent".

The terms of the inquiry for the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee are to review the Telecommunications Act with regard to the Australian Law Reform Commission's For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice report from August 2008 and the recommendations stemming from the 2013 inquiry into potential reforms of national security legislation.

"The Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department, under the previous government and under the current government, has acknowledged that the TIA Act is hopelessly outdated and urgently in need of review," Ludlam said.

"This is not a hostile reference, but it is an extremely urgent one. The TIA Act was written in 1979, well before the age of the internet ... and this was the age of the lawful warrant in which, if you needed to surveil someone's phone calls or read their emails, you needed a warrant."

Ludlam said, in a statement, that following September 11, 2001, the Act has been amended 45 times and been used as a tool to "bug and snoop" on Australians.

"Since 2007, warrantless surveillance of Australians through access to telecommunications data has been possible, with requests of nearly 300,000 in the last financial year," he said.

"In May 2013, the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor concluded that several of the 80 hastily made changes to Australian law after the events of September 11 were not effective, appropriate, or necessary."

While the members of the inquiry into national security legislation recommended that information gained under the TIA was of sufficient public interest that it overrode the privacy intrusion, and that the Attorney-General's Department should look to cut down on the number of agencies with access to telecommunications data, the members of that inquiry, which included current Attorney-General George Brandis, were split on the issue of data retention, which would have forced telecommunications companies to retain metadata for up to two years.

The new inquiry is due to report in June 2014.

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