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Tech sector unites in attempt to avoid Oz's anti-crypto push, again

Government now says it wants bill passed 'in its current form'

The federal government's continuing media blitz to rush through its anti-encryption legislation has drawn push-back from eight industry bodies, led by the Communications Alliance.

The government wants scrutiny of its “Access and Assistance” legislation in the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) wrapped up, because it believes the law doesn't need any amendments.

In spite of the committee process, home affairs minister Peter Dutton yesterday told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National parliament should pass the bill in its current form.

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Problems highlighted in PJCIS hearings include the broad reach of the bill (nearly anybody could find themselves dubbed a “service provider”), lack of definition of important terms such as “systemic weakness”, the threat to Australian IT firms trying to export their products, and the excessive secrecy applied to law enforcement requests.


The Communications Alliance yesterday teamed with the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Information Industry Association, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, the Information Technology Professionals Association, Internet Australia, the IoT Alliance Australia, and DIGI (whose founders include Facebook, Google, Oath: and Twitter).

The broad industry alliance asked the government not to “scuttle the process” of parliamentary scrutiny bill.

In the groups' joint media statement, Internet Australia chair Paul Brooks said “it is crucial that lawmakers give the Bill serious consideration and work with stakeholders to fix its well-documented flaws”.

He added that the majority of the 90 submissions being considered by the PJCIS “have raised serious concerns about the implications of many aspects of the proposed legislation. This includes the threat it poses to the cybersecurity and privacy of all Australians and to the reputation of Australian industry, including SMEs and start-ups, competing in a global market.”

The AIIA's general manager of policy, Kishwar Rahman, chimed in: “the Bill as currently drafted not only raises privacy concerns but stands to jeopardise the security of the Internet globally and the framework of trust required for it to function properly”.

The PJCIS has hearings scheduled into early December, which would make it unlikely the government could pass the legislation before Christmas. The final scheduled hearing is December 4, and parliament is due to rise for the year two days later.

That's the process the PM and Dutton want to short-circuit. Dutton rolled out the terror threat as reason to accelerate the legislation earlier this week, the PM chimed in yesterday, saying “I would insist on seeing them passed before the end of the next sitting fortnight.”

Dutton took the offensive to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National on Thursday afternoon, saying “We want that bill out of the parliamentary joint committee as quickly as possible, so the parliament can resolve that”.

“It's been before the committee for a fair period of time. They've had hearings, obviously it's continuing to drag on now,” he said.

“The technology's ahead of where the agencies are at the moment”, he added, adding that paedophiles are getting abuse material “Skyped back to their bedrooms”.

Dutton also told Radio National that the bill is already “in acceptable form”, and said by asking for the committee process to continue, Labor leader is “not supporting the current bill”.

“The reality is that they won't support the current bill”, he added.

So far, both Labor members of the committee (including shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus) and the Liberal party chair of the committee Andrew Hastie have committed to completing the inquiry to its current schedule. ®

Bootnote: While the company building the National Broadband Network, nbn™, is a member of both the Communications Alliance and the Australian Industry Group, it's also answerable to its two "shareholder ministers", communications minister Mitch Fifield and finance minister Mathias Cormann. So it's probably not surprising that the company did not endorse those bodies' participation in the statement.

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