Proposed Tech Laws could give Police access to Messages
A draft bill released last week by the Government could compel telecommunication providers to assist law enforcement and intelligence agencies in accessing data.
The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 introduces new powers that will be available to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
How does this affect telecommunications providers?
The proposed legislation will establish three levels of assistance that law enforcement and intelligence agencies can seek from telecommunications providers.
- A technical assistance request: a service provider can voluntarily assist in response to such requests.
- A technical assistance notice: compels a provider to assist the requesting agency or face a fine of up to $10 million for a corporation or $50,000 for an individual.
- A technical capability notice: the provider is required to build new capabilities to assist the police. These requests can only be issued by the Attorney-General if he is satisfied that the requirements imposed by the notice are “reasonable and proportionate” and that compliance is “practical” and “technically feasible”.
What are the implications of this new law?
If passed, the legislation would introduce a new section 317E into the Telecommunications Act that provides a “list of acts or things” that law enforcement agencies may be able to request from communications providers.
The legislation is very broad in its wording and could potentially cover any company or individual that writes software. Tech companies and individual software developers could potentially find themselves with a request, and they could face large penalties for refusing to assist.
Requests could range from general information about how an app works; explicit requests for an individual’s profile, photos, message history; or even access to GPS data that could enable an Government agency to track a suspect. Some companies might even find themselves with a request to build or install specific software that could help authorities gather information.
What this means for a person being monitored is that, the police can read private messages at the same time that they are received by the intended recipient.
New powers mean more opportunity for abuse
It is uncertain how law enforcement agencies will use these new powers, and the extent that telecommunications providers will be flooded with assistance requests.
With the Government already adamant on utilising facial recognition technology, and now seeking to access the private messages of individuals through this new Bill, law enforcement agencies could be given exceptional new powers to monitor our lives. Of course, with power comes the potential to abuse them.
Are we turning into a Big Brother State?
Let’s get this straight. We could soon be heading into a surveillance era where the Government can run a facial recognition scheme, and gain access to our private messages. But, this is for our own good, right?
Perhaps not. This potential reality is reminiscent of George Orwell’s classic dystopian “fiction” Nineteen Eighty-Four. In Orwell’s novel, the state wields total power over the people “for its own sake”, with every citizen under constant surveillance by the authorities through telescreens – devices which operate through televisions, security cameras and microphones. This is starting to sound awfully like the laws that the Government have been proposing…
There is a real risk of illegitimate use of powers by law enforcement agencies and an invasion of privacy. There are no safeguards to protect our rights from arbitrary interference by the State. The Government needs to end its pursuit of invasive laws aimed at monitoring the private lives of the people.
Provide your feedback on the Telecommunications Bill
The Government is accepting public feedback on the Telecommunications Bill. Whether you’re a techie that could potentially fall under the scope of the Bill, or an everyday person, we encourage you to read through the Bill and to provide any feedback here.