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Thursday, 14 June 2007
Page: 7


Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (9:26 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill amends the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 to implement the second stage of recommendations of the report of the review of the regulation of access to communications, undertaken by Mr Tony Blunn AO.

The review examined the issue of how best to regulate access to telecommunications in the rapidly changing world of telecommunications technology.

A core finding of Mr Blunn’s review was the desirability of a single comprehensive legislative regime dealing with access to telecommunications information for law enforcement purposes. This bill is the second step in implementing that recommendation and follows the passage of the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Act 2006.

Transfer of provisions from the Telecommunications Act

The bill transfers key security and law enforcement provisions from the Telecommunications Act 1997 to the interception act. The transferred provisions relate to access to telecommunications data, and provisions regulating telecommunications industry interception obligations.

In doing this the bill creates a clearer regime for accessing telecommunications data for national security and law enforcement purposes. Telecommunications data refers to information about a communication, as distinct from its content, and includes the sending and receiving parties, and the date, time and duration of the communication. Agencies currently access telecommunications data using provisions of the Telecommunications Act.

In transferring these powers to the interception act, the bill consolidates and clarifies these provisions to better protect the privacy of telecommunications users. Changing technology is broadening the range of communications transmitted over the telecommunications network, and thereby changing the effective scope of the existing provisions. In particular, the capacity for the delivery of telecommunications information in real time involves a much greater impact on privacy.

For this reason, the bill creates a new two-tier access regime. The first tier encompasses the traditional access to existing telecommunications data. The second tier, which would be limited to a narrower range of agencies and require a higher threshold of authorisation, allows for access to future telecommunications data. Consistent with similar provisions in other parts of the interception and access regime, this bill creates offences for unlawful disclosure or use of telecommunications data.

The bill also establishes new record keeping and reporting obligations for law enforcement bodies including a requirement to report annually on the number of authorisations.

It is important to stress that this proposal does not represent new powers for security and law enforcement agencies. Rather it creates new, more systematic and appropriate controls over the existing access framework.

The bill also transfers existing provisions relating to cooperation between telecommunications carriers and government agencies.

This includes the transfer of the existing obligation on carriers to ensure that communications passing over their network are capable of interception, the capacity to make determinations in relation to interception capability and to grant exemptions from the obligations.

The bill preserves existing arrangements while at the same time simplifying provisions wherever possible.

The bill clarifies and streamlines arrangements in relation to interception capability plans submitted by the telecommunications industry and the making of interception related determinations.

In transferring provisions from the Telecommunications Act, the bill retains the existing framework for cost-sharing between the government and industry.

Amendments to interception provisions

The bill also contains a number of minor amendments to refine the operation of the interception regime.

The bill will broaden the offences for which interception warrants may be sought to include all child pornography offences.

The availability of interception in relation to the investigation of child pornography offences is crucial because of the central role that the internet and telecommunications play in the exchange and possession of child pornography. This bill will ensure that interception warrants are available to assist in the investigation of any offence relating to child pornography.

This bill also permits the disclosure of lawfully accessed stored communications to assist the Australian Communications and Media Authority with the enforcement of the Spam Act 2003; and allowing agencies to disclose stored communications material to each other in relation to investigations into police misconduct.

The bill also changes provisions relating to network protection and security. In 2006, the act was amended to ensure that the Australian Federal Police could adequately protect its network infrastructure.

The new bill expands this capacity to a Commonwealth agency, security agency or eligible state agency to ensure that their network administrators can protect network infrastructure without the risk of being in breach of the act. The provision acknowledges the seriousness that the government accords to ensuring network security. This amendment would be subject to the existing sunset clause.

The bill will also allow security authorities, which have functions that include developing or testing technologies, to seek authorisation from the Attorney-General to intercept communications for the limited purposes of that development or testing.

This power is highly specific, tightly regulated and necessary in certain circumstances to ensure new equipment actually functions as intended.

Conclusion

The key parts of this bill effect the direct transfer of an existing regime from one act to another. This consolidation will create a more effective legislative framework for accessing telecommunications information for law enforcement and national security purposes. By centralising, modernising and simplifying several important provisions, it will introduce greater clarity of responsibilities, rights and obligations for all those who use the provisions. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Plibersek) adjourned.