Cyber laws pass lower house, vex Greens

Laws to help protect Australians from cyber criminals and beef up the powers of law enforcement agencies have been passed in the lower house.
Written by AAP , Contributor and  Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

Laws to help protect Australians from cyber criminals and beef up the powers of law enforcement agencies have been passed in the lower house.

The Bill will allow law enforcement agencies to request the preservation of communications that could be sought under warrant as evidence, including SMS messages and emails.

It also allows for increased international cooperation between Australian and overseas cybercrime investigators, and extends the scope of existing Commonwealth computer offences, while bringing Australia into line with the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime.

Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said today that cybercrime was an offence that could be committed from anywhere.

"It can be perpetrated by a computer system in a city in the northern regions of Siberia ... as easily as it can be perpetrated by a computer in the next-door neighbour to any citizen," he told parliament.

"Its tentacles extend to the daily lives of all citizens."

Opposition justice spokesman Michael Keenan said that the Coalition broadly supported the Bill.

He said that while Australians had been quick to adopt the internet for business, shopping and leisure, this had created new opportunities for criminal activities. The opposition said it agreed with the government that cybercrime presented a challenge for law enforcement authorities and the criminal justice system.

The Greens, however, have questioned those parties passing the Bill without including any of its amendments, which the party said addressed "serious flaws".

Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam pointed to a report published by the Joint Select Committee on Cyber Safety, which had proposed a number of amendments and asked for clarification on certain points of the law. He was worried that Labor and the coalition had not addressed the issues in the House of Representatives.

"The attorney-general said today he was considering the report before the debate in the Senate. The Australian Greens look forward to working with both parties to fix this fundamentally flawed bill in the Senate, but we are greatly troubled by the fact that both the Labor Party and Coalition gave no indication in the House that they believed any of the flaws needed fixing. On the contrary, they had nothing but praise for the Bill."

Ludlam said that the Bill went way beyond what was required to accede to the European Convention on Cybercrime. He has previously expressed fears that powers under the Bill could see scope creep and end up with full data retention, where details on communications between every Australian citizen would be held by telcos for a certain amount of time.

"The European Treaty doesn't require ongoing collection and retention of communications, but this Bill does. Under the Convention, police are not required to pass on data if it relates to a political offence or if passing on the data is inconsistent with human rights standards, but this Bill contains no such exemption. These are disturbing flaws that must be fixed, but the Government and Opposition have passed this Bill through the House with no acknowledgment of that."

McClelland said that internet carriers would only be asked to store specific data, not every phone call or email that passed through their system.

McClelland also said that concerns expressed by the Joint Select Committee on Cyber Safety, regarding the privacy of the stored data, were unfounded.

"Significant protections exist to ensure the privacy and integrity of any information while it is preserved," he said.

The Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 will now be considered in the Senate.

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