Not a good day in parliament - encryption breaking powers legislated

Two needed bills abandoned -  one flawed and reckless bill waved though – a sad day in the Australian Parliament.

On Thursday, the last chaotic day of the Parliamentary session, the Prime Minister declared he would do all in his power to thwart the majority will of parliament.

His stated motive was to stop Parliament from passing legislation requiring the transfer of refugee children in need of medical care from Nauru to Australia for treatment. His deeper motive was to avoid his Government suffering a Parliamentary defeat on substantive legislation.  

He succeeded by filibustering in the Senate and when the Bill was eventually passed by a majority of senators, by closing down the House of Representatives so the Bill could not be considered there.

This was shameful – both in process and outcome.

Also a casualty was the promised legislation to protect GLBTQI students from discrimination in private schools.  This was both deeply disappointing and a breach of the Prime Minister’s commitment to act on this issue before Christmas.

Astonishingly the Government was also prepared to sacrifice its 'encryption' legislation that it had repeatedly insisted was so urgent the PJCIS had to abort its review process so the public could be better protected from terrorist incidents over Christmas.  

The Labor Opposition then took the extraordinary decision to wave through the 'encryption' Bill without moving any of its own tabled amendments -  in full knowledge of the many problems that remained in the Bill.

Its motive was to avoid being wedged on a national security issue. The outcome is that Australia has another flawed and disproportionate counter-terrorism law. 

The problems are not minor.

Notwithstanding some improvements from the Government amendments, the Bill is still fundamentally flawed. The power to force communications providers to break encryption services in particular cases still carries a real and disproportionate risk of introducing systemic weaknesses into the encryption application.  Industry and academic technical experts remain strongly of this view.

This has serious implications for the security of innocent Australians encrypted information and for their right to privacy.

Stronger judicial oversight is needed to ensure there is no abuse of these powers.

The operation of these powers will be largely covert and only limited public reporting is required. 

At best we have a vague statement by the Prime Minister that the Government would consider revisiting Labor’s amendments when parliament resumes in February.  We can only hope that the Parliament does give more  serious consideration to the legislation in February when hopefully members may have a better understanding of the the legislation and its many problems.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties continues to oppose this legislation. 


Joint CCLs submission to PJCIS

Joint submission to Department of Home Affairs