Australia's anti-encryption laws stay unchanged

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Australia's anti-encryption laws stay unchanged

As review decides two more reviews are needed pronto.

Australia’s anti-encryption law will survive unchanged for now after a committee reviewing them could not agree on further changes.

In a fresh setback to the technology industry, which has consistently railed against the laws rushed through parliament at the end of last year, their latest feedback and recommendations to have the controversial laws amended (or revoked) again fell on deaf ears.

All the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security could come up with was yet another review of the laws, along with a move to expedite a separate review by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) of how the anti-encryption laws are operating, which won’t report until 2020. [pdf]

The committee also asked that agencies with oversight roles to play under the laws be appropriately resourced.

That means laws that Australian companies openly say are now costing them new contracts, jobs, and international credibility will remain as-is until at least after the federal election.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus called the joint committee’s recommendations “modest” but  conceded there was little Labor could do now.

Most of the changes Labor proposes now depend on them winning the federal election, since changes they had been hoping to pass this term remain stalled in the Senate.

Dreyfus claimed a small victory in the joint committee’s latest report, tabled on Wednesday afternoon, in that it has an appendix containing “a detailed summary of the many concerns that have been expressed by submitters to the two inquiries that the intelligence committee has conducted in respect of this legislation”.

The committee report itself offers a rather more subdued assessment, effectively noting it ignored the 70 industry submissions it received this year.

“The committee does not seek to respond to these matters [raised by submitters], and their inclusion in the appendix does not indicate whether the committee concurs with these matters,” it offered.

Regardless, Dreyfus expressed hope in parliament that the latest report “marks the beginning of a more sensible debate about the new measures introduced by the Assistance and Access Act.”

He said the laws could be “improved during the next parliament.”

“Labor tried to begin that work during this term of parliament by introducing amendments in the Senate on 14 February 2019,” Dreyfus said.

“A majority of the Senate voted for those amendments, but the government - which still maintains that this rushed legislation is perfect - has shut down debate on those amendments and so regrettably we will not be able to pass them before the election.”

If Labor wins the federal election next month, Dreyfus said it would move to get the amendments before the Senate back on track, and introduce new ones requiring judicial oversight of technical notices and unspecified changes to reduce economic impacts of the laws on Australian businesses.

Labor has been trying to move changes to the anti-encryption laws since it helped rush them through parliament at the end of 2018.

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