Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has pulled the handbrake on the Federal Government's Telecommunications Interception Bill, demanding more clarity for network operators and greater privacy provisions for citizens.
The Telecommunications Interception and Access Bill 2009 proposes to amend the 1979 Telecommunications Interception Act in order to provide law enforcement agencies and network operators the means to defend against attack in real time.
The bill proposes to give network operators - under certain circumstances - an exemption enabling them to intercept data communications in transit, a practice which is otherwise banned under the Telecommunications Interception Act.
The Bill was released in draft form in July 2009, drawing criticism from legal experts such as the Australian Law Reform Commission and privacy advocates such as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA).
Concerns centred around loose definitions in the legislation - which at a high level allows for a "responsible person" (those in charge of operating, protecting or doing maintenance work on a network) to intercept data communications on that network, provided they receive written approval from the network's owner and that their interception is "reasonable".
The legislation's definition of "reasonable" was originally only defined as being for the purpose of "network protection".
While some of these concerns were addressed in revisions to the legislation tabled in the Senate yesterday, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the legislation still requires some work.
Ludlam told iTnews today that the bill as it stands gives security agencies such as the AFP [Australian Federal Police] "broad discretion" to intercept certain traffic in order to protect information and computer infrastructure from malicious attack.
But it provides little clarity for network operators, he said.
"One of the stated purposes of the bill is to prevent people from accidentally breaking the law," he said. "It is supposed to clarify obligations for network operators."
The Greens will be "arguing strongly for the government to consider important privacy issues before giving authorities these increased powers", he said.
The Greens are now preparing new amendments based on submissions from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Electronic Frontiers Australia and the Australian Law Reform Commission.
"These include clarifying definitions of what constitutes network protection duties and disciplinary actions and tightening requirements to destroy copies of intercepted communications," Ludlam said.
The Greens plan to make a "good faith offer" to the Government to help expedite passage of the bill if amendments that clarify these terms are accepted.
"If the Government passes these amendments, we will consider this 'non-controversial' and won't debate the bill," Ludlam told iTnews.
This will prove particularly attractive to a Federal Government faced with a congested final few weeks of parliament for 2009. Canberra is pre-occupied with carbon emissions trading scheme legislation and laws aimed at splitting up Telstra in preparation for the build of the National Broadband Network.
The Federal Government only has until December 12 to pass a new Telecommunications Amendment Act before interim laws expire.