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Govt considering plan to allow employers to s -

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Govt considering plan to allow employers to snoop on workers' e-mails

Broadcast: 14/04/2008

Reporter: Kirrin McKechnie

A row is brewing over Commonwealth Government plans to give companies the power to intercept their
workers' emails - all in the name of tackling cyber-terrorism.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES: Critics say it's invading personal privacy, authorities insist it's protecting the
nation from terrorism. A row is brewing over Commonwealth Government plans to give companies the
power to intercept their workers' emails, all in the name of tackling cyber-terrorism. Civil
libertarians say the move will strip Australian workers of their essential freedoms. Kirrin
McKechnie reports from Canberra.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: A pledge to workers.

JULIA GILLARD, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I promise we're not interested in the email you send out
about who did what at the Christmas period.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: That holds little comfort for civil libertarians. The Federal Government is
considering new laws to give employers the power to check their employees' emails without consent.
The legislation is designed to tighten national security and cut down on so called cyber-terrorism.

JULIA GILLARD: If our banking system collapsed, if our Government electronic system collapsed
obviously that would have huge implications for society. So we want to make sure they are safe from
terrorist attack. Part of doing that is to make sure we have the right powers to ensure we can tell
if something unusual is going on in the system. So it's a national security move, not a move about
an unseaming interest in people's private emails.

DAVID BERNEY, NSW CIVIL LIBERTIES COUNCIL: The threat of terrorism is used as the big bogeyman in
all cases to justify further reductions in our civil liberties and breaches of our rights of
privacy.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: David Berney says Australia's security agencies already have extensive powers
which allows them to tap into people's emails. He can't understand how extending such powers to
employers would help.

DAVID BERNEY: We don't see how invading the privacy rights of Australian employees is going to stop
a denial service attack from countries like Russia.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: Brendan Nelson is cautiously backing the move but wants assurances.

BRENDAN NELSON, OPPOSITION LEADER: On the face of it, I think the intention the Government has as
reported has got some merit. I think all of us would be concerned about the privacy implications of
this. What I will be looking for is a full briefing from the Government and the relevant security
agency so we can actually have a look at what is proposed.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: But once again the embattled Opposition Leader appears out of step with his own
frontbench. Both the deputy and the shadow attorney-general have attacked the plan, raising
concerns about giving companies quasi law enforcement powers. And one internet rights watchdog
insists we don't need them anyway.

DALE CLAPPERTON, ELECTRONIC FRONTIERS AUSTRALIA: I would like to think that Australian security
arrangements that protect our infrastructure networks are stronger than might be found in Estonia.
Moreover, even if we accept that is a risk, the Government needs to make their case why these
proposed changes will actually mitigate that risk and need to show that the resulting cost to
personal security and privacy will, in fact, outweigh the risk posed to Australia by so called
cyber-terrorism.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: Dale Clapperton warns the new laws could give employers free rein to read their
employee reasons all for the wrong reasons.

DALE CLAPPERTON: The worst case scenario is organisations that get these new powers will eventually
use them to conduct eavesdropping and corporate witch hunts into the personal correspondence of
their employees.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: But the Government insists it'll consult widely with privacy experts and unions
before making its next move. Kirrin McKechnie. Lateline.