Government vague, divided on copyright crackdown: Dreyfus

Proposals to crack down on online copyright infringement are vague and Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull appear divided on the schemes, according to Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.

Despite having close to a year to work on policy around copyright infringement, the government's discussion paper is vague and the two ministers responsible for the proposal appear split on the best scheme, according to Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.

The discussion paper for reducing the number of Australians turning to BitTorrent to download infringing TV shows, films and music released last week did not explicitly outline any proposed methods for reducing infringement, but Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has subsequently indicated he favours the New Zealand system that requires rights holders to pay to send infringement notices, and then take alleged infringers to a Copyright Tribunal for damages.

However, the government appears to be divided on the best system forward, with Attorney-General George Brandis stating on Monday that he favours the US Copyright Alert system that shares the cost for the system between ISPs and rights holders.

In an interview with ZDNet today, Dreyfus said that the government appeared to be divided over the best method to deter copyright infringement.

"It's quite a substantial disagreement as to whether or not ISPs should be responsible for paying for infringement mechanisms," he said.

"What is disappointing is that not only does Senator Brandis and Malcolm Turnbull apparently have disagreements about aspects of this policy, all they've produced after 10 months work is a very vague discussion paper, which doesn't even come close to being a clear policy."

He said that the government had indicated it would have a substantial policy, but very little about it has been made public.

"We've been told by Senator Brandis that he has been working on a policy to, as he put it, crack down on piracy since the last election," Dreyfus said.

"We'd been told the government was going to develop a substantial policy response to discourage online piracy and to encourage consumers to use legitimate content services, but I think it is clear that much of the piracy problem that Australia has lies in a lack of timely and affordable access to legitimate content.

"It's also clear that the government has palmed clear details of the scheme, including whether consumers will bear the costs, back to industry to negotiate."

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Dreyfus said that Labor "in principle" supports parts of the national security legislation introduced in June that implements the recommendations of a parliamentary report handed to the former Labor government last year, but he said that the additional protections for disclosure of information, that some have said would see publications prosecuted for publishing Edward Snowden-type leaks about national security operations, were added at the last minute.

Dreyfus said that Labor would await the public scrutiny of the legislation through the parliamentary committee process before deciding the party's position on the legislation.

"I'm not going to announce a Labor position until we complete that period of public scrutiny, but the government shouldn't think that it has a blank cheque on every aspect of this Bill simply because it is said to implement what were Labor proposals in the first place," he said.

"It is always a matter of the detail, and we will be looking through the Bill ourselves."

He said the government should, as a matter of priority, fill the role of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, which was made vacant at the end of Bret Walker's term at the end of April.

"The government now needs to appoint someone to fill that position because, among other things, the monitor could be looking at this Bill."

Dreyfus said that Brandis' indication that requiring telecommunications companies to retain customer data for up to two years is under "active consideration" by the government came from "out of the blue" but said that Labor would await the detail of any formal proposal before deciding on whether to support or oppose mandatory data retention.

"I'm aware of the arguments for mandatory data retention that are made by the Australian Federal Police and by ASIO, but I'm equally aware that there are significant concerns among Australians about the scope of any proposal," he said.

"It's very important that any suggested regime, and we don't know what the government has in mind, has safeguards, the right oversight, and there is also the issue of cost.

"Obviously one of the issues the government has to address in any proposed scheme is who is going to pay for it, and if Senator Brandis expects the industry to cover the cost for mandatory data retention, he needs to make that very clear."

He said there should be a detailed proposal, with lengthy consultation with the public, and mandatory data retention should clearly indicate what data telcos would be required to retain.

ZDNet revealed on Friday that the federal government is quietly consulting with industry on a proposal to drop the requirement that agencies obtain approval from both their portfolio minister and the attorney-general before moving to offshore data. Dreyfus, who was the attorney-general when the rule was brought in back in 2013, said that he supported retaining the requirement, and wasn't convinced by industry claims that it created hurdles for agencies in moving to cloud services.

"The reason why we put in place the processes for dual approval was that we were concerned to assure Australians as to the protection of their privacy, and to give some assurance from a national security perspective," he said.

"We thought the system we put in place was the appropriate one, and I have yet to hear convincing arguments as to why it should be changed."