Govt accepts watered-down Foreign Fighters Bill

The Australian government expects its new counter-terrorism laws to pass in parliament after accepting all of the recommendations made by a committee looking into the new legislation.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

The government announced on October 22 that it has accepted all of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security into the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 (PDF), the second tranche of the government's national security legislation.

The committee's report (PDF) recommended improving the clarity of provisions in the Bill and ensuring that the powers provided for in the Bill are used appropriately and subject to proper review.

Australia's Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Dr Vivienne Thom raised concerns earlier this month about the new legislation's lack of clarity for the term "security", arguing that it could expand the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation's (ASIO) power to get metadata for more than just national security purposes.

The new legislation, which is aimed at preventing domestic terrorist threats, originally proposed the collection of biometric and other personal data at the SmartGate systems currently being rolled out in Australian international airports. It also proposed the expansion of biometric data to include fingerprints and iris scans.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection, along with Customs, would then be able to share that information with other government entities.

However, among the recommendations made by the committee was the request that the government consult with the privacy commissioner in order to carry out a privacy impact statement before introducing future Bills to authorise additional biometric data collection.

"The committee recommends the government consult with the privacy commissioner and conduct a privacy impact statement prior to proposing any future legislative amendments which would authorise the collection of additional biometric data such as fingerprints and iris scans," it said.

"The committee recommends that the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 be amended to remove the ability to prescribe the collection of additional categories of biometric information within the Migration Regulations.

"Should this information be required by relevant agencies to ensure Australia's border security, further legislative amendments should be proposed by the government and referred to this committee with appropriate time for inquiry and report," it said.

In its response, the government said it believes that implementing the recommendations would further strengthen the provisions of the Bill, including the safeguards, transparency, and oversight mechanisms.

"This urgent legislation tackles the escalating threats posed by persons who have participated in foreign conflicts or undertaken training with extremist groups overseas, and also by those who they influence," the federal government said in a statement.

"The government is determined to give our law enforcement, intelligence, and border protection agencies the tools they need to mitigate such threats. The Bill has a direct impact on their ability to protect the Australian public," it said.

The Bill is expected to be put before parliament next week.

On October 1, the first tranche of the government's national security legislation passed the House of Representatives, expanding ASIO's powers to seize and monitor computers and other electronic devices connected to the internet.

The Bill, which passed with amendments in the Senate in September, broadens ASIO's powers to gain access to an unlimited number of computers or networks with a single computer access warrant, disrupt target computers, and use third-party computers not targeted in order to access a target computer.

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