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Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Page: 11

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) (1:18 PM) —The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Bill 2009 recognises the important role technology plays in the way we store and exchange information. The passage of this bill will help secure sensitive information from criminal access, protecting Australians from criminal activity and ensuring the integrity of vital infrastructure. For the first time, all Australians will be able to undertake certain activities designed to protect their computer network without breaching the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. This is an important step forward which matches the growth in sophisticated attacks with the capacity to defend a network at the earliest possible point. However, network protection activities will only be lawful if they are conducted in accordance with the act.

Network protection activities will also need to comply with the provisions and privacy protections set out in this bill. Under the bill, network protection activities cannot be undertaken without reason, nor can the information obtained through these activities be used for any purpose. Rather, the proposed network protection regime maintains the integrity of the interception regime by balancing the need to protect networks from malicious attack with clear limitations on the circumstances in which the access, use and disclosure of information will be permitted. The bill also includes several amendments that will improve the effective operation of the act, ensuring it continues to be clear and relevant. The network protection regime responds to a new and very real threat.

The bill has been considered by both the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. I thank both committees for their work on the matters raised. The Attorney has responded to the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, as requested, to clarify several aspects of the bill. The majority of the legal and constitutional affairs committee has recommended that the bill be passed and that the provisions be reviewed five years after their commencement. Given the broader operation of the interception regime for the purpose of protecting computer networks, the government supports this recommendation and will conduct an administrative review of the network protection regime five years after its commencement.

I would also emphasise, as the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee noted in its report, that the feedback on the bill has been positive. There is agreement that network owners and operators should be able to protect their networks. There is also agreement that the current capacity of designated government agencies to use network protection information for disciplinary purposes should be retained. This bill is a measured response to a growing problem that will enable network protection activities to take place within the broader framework established by the act. By ensuring that network owners can undertake legitimate activities aimed at securing their networks and the information they contain, this bill will build Australians’ confidence in, and use of, the online world. In conclusion, I would like to thank those senators who made contributions to the second reading debate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.