Coalition wants money for ASIO, but Greens want privacy

The Australian Greens are arguing that surveillance laws are keeping up quite nicely with technology, but the Shadow Attorney-General thinks national security agencies need more money to do their jobs.

Surveillance laws are keeping up with technology at the expense of Australians' privacy, according to Greens spokesperson Scott Ludlam, but Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis wants to throw more money at national security agencies.

"Since September 11, 2001, the ASIO Act has been amended 25 times and the Telecommunications Interceptions and Access Act has been amended by the parliament 45 times, and the fact of the matter is surveillance powers are keeping up with technology quite nicely."

Ludlam pointed to a recent example of German Green party politician Malte Spitz who had gained access to six months of metadata from telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom, and plotted that information on a map. From the information, Spitz's location was able to be tracked, and Ludlam said it would be easy to correlate multiple customers' data to determine who had been meeting with who.

He said that surveillance laws didn't need to be boosted because this information is already open to many government agencies almost trivially.

"[This information is] being vacuumed up not just by the Federal Police and by ASIO, who don't have the reporting obligations under the TIA Act, but by local government, local police forces, anti-corruption authorities, the RSPCA — you take your pick. Dozens of agencies are vacuuming this material up, and there's really no traditional oversight whatsoever."

When it came to balancing the equation with amendments to the Privacy Act and other relevant legislation, Ludlam said that it was too skewed towards the surveillance side.

"I don't think we have a balance, quite frankly," he said.

"Surveillance laws have kept up with technology quite nicely, thank you very much. Privacy laws are still stuck in the mid-1990s."

Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis, who was not able to be present during the whole of Ludlam's talk, did not touch on whether current legislation was commensurate with the issues of online criminal activity, but acknowledged that much needed to be done in combating online crime and that Australia has not historically had a single piece of legislation to cover online criminal acts.

However, that did not mean that nothing had been done. In particular, he brought up the recent Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Act, which the Coalition helped pass through parliament.

"That legislation had bi-partisan support because the Coalition believes that it was a necessary step, though not a complete or comprehensive one, toward dealing with cybercrime and combating security breaches as they become more frequent and penetrative in Australia."

He also said that many might have concerns that such legislation might affect the privacy of individuals, and while some of those concerns are real, others had been inflated by a lack of understanding of the underlying safeguards in existing legislation.

"The legislation did not affect the robust privacy safeguards and accountability mechanisms that were already in place."

Brandis did feel that more could have been done to support existing government initiatives, such as the Australian Cyber Security Centre.

"It would have been better if the government had actually appropriated some funding for the centre. Unfortunately, as the budget papers revealed, they didn't. No new funding was committed to the centre; its costs would be borne from within existing resources — in other words, at the expense of the already depleted national security budgets," he said.

Brandis said that it was important that Australia's national security agencies are adequately resourced, stating that if a Coalition government were in power, the funding situation would change.

"Things that were being done five years ago are not being done today. Things that were being detected five years ago are being missed today. A Coalition government would certainly seek to arrest that degradation of capacity."