The PJCIS is reviewing the legislation that established the excessive mandatory data retention regime in 2015.
This review is happening at a timely moment as the Australian community ponders the implications of the extraordinary AFP raids on the ABC and a News Limited journalist a few weeks ago. We were not surprised at the AFP raids on the ABC and other journalists. These intimidatory raids are an inevitable consequence of Australia's large expanding suite of surveillance and secrecy laws.
The mass data collection regime which is retained to allow access by intelligence and police officers is an important element of these laws and in itself poses a clear and major threat to journalists and whistle-blowers.
Not surprisingly it was hugely controversial legislation and generated widespread, vehement opposition from civil liberties/human rights groups, journalists and media organisations, privacy and IT groups and many others.
NSWCCL joined with other councils for civil liberties to oppose the Bill. We put in a Joint CCLs submission to the PJCIS and when it recommended an amended version of the Bill be passed by Parliament, we wrote to all Senators – as the last chance forum - urging them to abandon this indiscriminate and excessive collection of all Australian residents data and replace it with a less intrusive regime which targets only suspects.
While we failed to block the passage of the legislation, some concessions were achieved – including a ‘fix’ to protect journalists through a special Journalist Information Warrant and a review of the regime after three years. This is the review year.
Joint CCLs current position
We maintain our strong opposition to the legislation as disproportionate and incompatible with a healthy democracy. In our new submission we have again argued it should be repealed or significantly amended.
We are hopeful that some improvements to the legislation will result from this review, especially much needed safeguards - such as warrant approval for access to the retained telecommunications data. It is not likely that the PJCIS will recommend, or the Government approve repeal of the legislation.
The CCLs argue that the mandatory data retention regime is but one element of many excessive provisions in Australia’s uniquely large body of national security and counter-terrorism legislation. It is crucial for there to be a review of the cumulative chilling and intimidatory impact of the Government's expanded surveillance powers and secrecy offences relating to Government activity.
In reaction to public and media outrage the Government has now established a separate inquiry into the ‘impact of the exercise of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press’ to be conducted by the PJCIS.
We will be making a submission to this review – and arguing that that the PJCIS is not the appropriate Committee to conduct this inquiry as it has supported all the surveillance and secrecy legislation causing the problem.