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Proposed security laws may affect email priva -

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Proposed security laws may affect email privacy

The World Today - Monday, 14 April , 2008 12:10:00

Reporter: Samantha Hawley

LISA MILLAR: The Federal Government says a growing threat to national security has forced it to
consider allowing companies to intercept workers' emails, without their consent.

The Attorney-General Robert McClelland says the Government's considering new laws to counter
cyber-attacks that could target the nation's critical infrastructure.

Current laws only allow security agencies to monitor individual employee communications. But Mr
McClelland says companies providing important services to the community may need that power too.

It's a move that's outraged civil liberty groups.

From Canberra, Samantha Hawley reports.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The Federal Government says the nation needs tougher laws so employees up to no
good can be stopped.

JULIA GILLARD: I promise we're not interested in the email you send out about who did what at the
Christmas party.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Speaking on Channel 9, the Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard defended the need
for even greater anti-terrorism measures.

JULIA GILLARD: What this is about is looking at our critical infrastructure. Now, when we think
infrastructure, we think of roads and bridges and big things, but our technology is big
infrastructure issue these days. If our banking system collapsed, if our government electronic
systems collapsed, obviously that would have huge implications for society.

So, we want to make sure that they are safe from terrorist attack. Part of doing that is to make
sure we've got the right powers to ensure that we can tell if there's something unusual going on in
the system. So it's a national security move, not a move about, you know, an unseemly interest in
people's private emails.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: In fact, the Government says it has advice that an attack on the computer systems
sustaining the stock exchange, electricity grids and wider financial systems could have far greater
economic damage than a physical terrorist attack.

And it insists there's a growing threat of that happening.

JULIA GILLARD: We're obviously looking at this as we do with the rest of security interventions.
We're monitoring risk when risk is heightened.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The Government says the best way forward is to introduce new laws to allow
companies involved in the running of critical infrastructure to access the emails of their staff.

It says it could stop unwanted viruses entering the system.

The shadow attorney-general George Brandis says he's concerned by the planned laws.

GEORGE BRANDIS: There seems to be a suggestion that the onus is going to shift in some unspecified
way onto employers to act, in effect, as a quasi law-enforcement of investigative authority. Now,
this is the job of the Australian Federal Police, first and foremost.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The Attorney-General Robert McClelland says it's just proposal and he will consult
widely with privacy experts before introducing any new laws.

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: This is a very important discussion to have. Obviously you would be looking at
excluding use of personal information for any other form of, any other purpose, such as for
instance, disciplinary matters regarding the employee's conduct, or any other privacy issues,
whether it's from... in other words you're not interested in communications from employee's friends,
their children, other family members.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: But already civil liberty groups are putting up a fight.

TERRY O'GORMAN: This government particularly has to make out a case why such a draconian proposal
is needed.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The head of the Council of Civil Liberties, Terry O'Gorman, says there are already
enough anti-terrorism laws in place.

TERRY O'GORMAN: We've got the stage in Australia where we have passed so many laws in the name of
fighting terrorism that we're at serious risk of losing the balance between giving the intelligence
services sufficient powers to fight terrorism, while at the same time keeping long-standing and
cherished civil liberties.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The chair of the Privacy Foundation Roger Clarke agrees that there's no need for
new laws. And he argues there are no new threats.

ROGER CLARKE: We have been depending on computers for 40 years. We have been using email since
1972. In the event that there were real possibilities of major interruptions based in some way
through emails, then those things would have already happened. Those things haven't happened.

The Government is, if they're pursuing this line, is making up a Hemera, making up a mythology in
order to justify greater powers, and it does not makes sense.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: But Robert McClelland says in Estonia last year, hackers effectively shut down the
Government there for almost a fortnight.

He says that's proof it can be done.

LISA MILLAR: Samantha Hawley reporting.