Submission to PJCIS on the Assistance and Access Bill 2018

On 14 August 2018, the Department of Home Affairs released an exposure draft of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018.

Submissions to the exposure draft closed on the 10th of September 2018. Less than two weeks after the close of submissions, the Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton introduced a largely unchanged bill, which was immediately referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

It is clear from this incredibly short turnaround from the closing of submissions on the exposure draft and the introduction of the Bill into the Lower House that the Australian Government had absolutely no intention of meaningfully engaging with experts or civil society on an issue that is central to Australia’s digital critical infrastructure. The actions by the Australian Government in this “consultative process” show an alarming disregard of, and disrespect for, the fundamental principles of a liberal democratic society.

The Bill is being pushed forward with minimal consultation, and in the face of widespread criticism from both Australian and international civil society, as well as the community of academic experts with deep knowledge in this field. Additionally there have been substantial concerns raised by technology companies large and small, and industry associations, many of whom provide significant employment and technology innovation.

Digital Rights Watch collaborated with Australian Privacy Foundation, Electronic Frontiers Australia, Future Wise, Access Now, Blueprint for Free Speech and GetUp! to produce a joint submission for the committee.

This Bill creates extremely broad powers with almost no oversight and without any substantive justification. The possibility that such powers might be needed in future is not a proper basis for the making of laws. Among other things, the Bill effectively enacts insecurity by design, which will almost certainly create additional obstacles and exclusions for Australian companies seeking to operate in EU markets.

We recommend that the Australian Parliament reject the Bill wholesale.

Read our full submission for an overview of all our recommendations