Internet Australia, a not-for-profit that claims to represent Internet users in the country, has urged Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to intervene in what it characterises as “the inadequate consultation process” over the encryption bill that was presented to Parliament last month.
In a letter sent to Dutton on Monday, Internet Australia chairman Dr Paul Brooks said the period for public consultation had been too short and the bill had been rushed into Parliament just a week after the date for consultation ended.
The period for public comment on the bill, which is officially known as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, ended on 10 September after the draft was released on 14 August.
Dutton introduced the bill into Parliament on 20 September. One day has been set aside for a hearing before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.
Dr Brooks said the department had not yet put online many public submissions from major organisations which summarised the dangers that the bill posed.Ten submissions were put online on 14 September and since then another 101 have been released.
“Submissions from notable international institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the Internet Architecture Board, as well as our own submission amongst many others, have still not yet been published by your Department,” Dr Brooks said in the letter.
“This delay in publishing all submissions robs the public, industry and other arms of government of the opportunity to learn from the analysis of experts and the concerns of the public, and is contrary to a transparent consultation process normally expected of government.”
Citing the ban imposed on Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation from participating in the 5G rollout in Australia, Dr Brooks said Australia could face a similar situation.
“The ban [on Huawei and ZTE] was reportedly driven by concerns that companies with strong Chinese links are subject to Chinese Government control and requirements to act under direction of Chinese intelligence agencies,” he said.
“This Bill will put in place a regime where Australian companies will be subject to the same suspicions, and effectively viewed by international markets as subject to the very same concerns around undisclosed surveillance and surreptitious bypassing of security and privacy functions at the request or direction of the Australian Government.
“Australian manufacturers of communications hardware, developers of Australian communications software systems, every Australian telecommunications provider active in a foreign country, and in fact every Australian website involved in ecommerce to international markets could be suspected to be insecure by international markets.
“Under the current structure of the Bill, these concerns and suspicions will arise just by virtue of the legislation existing, even if the legislation is not used.”
Dr Brooks also said the time given for public consultation was far too short and, despite the volume of public submissions, Dutton had tabled the Bill in Parliament with few changes from the draft.
Allocating just a single day for the PJCIS to look into the bill was also inadequate, he said.
The letter urged Dutton to:
- “Require the Department to accelerate the publication of all the remaining submissions to its inquiry, to inform the community and now the PJCIS members of the range of submitters and their concerns;
- “Allow the PJCIS the time it will require to properly evaluate all the submissions it will receive, and schedule as many public hearing days as it needs to become fully informed of the consequences and dangers for the public and for the global communications infrastructure if this Bill proceeds unchanged;
- “Require the Department of Home Affairs to consult publicly and transparently over multiple rounds, and to institute a series of meetings and workshops with affected industry bodies to consolidate feedback and further review of future drafts, similar to the extensive consultation process that occurred with the introduction of metadata retention requirements and the Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms legislation;
- “Commence a multi-stakeholder process of engagement with national and international experts in policy, technology, communications systems engineering, and human rights in the workshops and rounds of document revision; and
- “Be mindful of the risks advised by local and global experts of profound damage to global Internet operations and communications systems, and to proceed slowly and cautiously with developing this currently dangerous and unworkable Bill into active legislation.”