The industry campaign to force urgent amendments to controversial encryption legislation has moved up a notch, with the nation’s largest tech sector advocacy group saying the laws render Australian tech companies “uncompetitive” in global markets.
Even as the legislation is listed for debate in the Parliament next week, the industry has turned up the volume on its campaign for sweeping amendments, or even the repeal of the bill altogether.
The Australian Information Industry Association’s [AIIA] freshly installed chief executive officer Ron Gauci told an industry forum in Sydney that the legislation also meant global tech companies would be forced to think twice about offering products in Australia.
Mr Gauci said there had been no meaningful public debate on the encryption bill before it was passed, which had resulted in the substandard and unnecessarily broad laws that are now in place.
While the AIIA had been “working from within” to amend the legislation through dialogue with government, he said the AIIA thinks “there is merit in repealing the legislation as well.”
“From our point of view, we have no confidence in the encryption [laws]. We have seen it rushed through Parliament, and it provides insufficient safeguards and protections for the data and communications of all Australians,” Mr Gauci said.
“The proposed powers are unprecedented, the remit is unnecessarily broad and the consequences of their use are completely unknown,” he said.
But it is the impact on Australia’s local technology sector that that the AIIA’s attention, after warnings to government “had fallen on deaf ears.”
“On a world stage, our small and medium sized enterprises develop products – particularly in the security space – that have a significant impact in global [markets],” Mr Gauci said.
“And yet this legislation actually creates an undermining of that technology. It undermines those products and solutions that are provided [from Australia] on the world stage,” he said.
“To put it more specifically, to have organisations that are developing products that now have a compromise or exposure to their technical solutions effectively renders them uncompetitive on a commercial and global scale.”
“Put simply, we are very concerned about the economic impact, not only for the players from the domestic market – that is the local companies selling into global markets – but also the international players who would now have to consider what it means to provide products around security in this country.”
While the legislation has been listed for debate in the Parliament next Wednesday, it is still unclear what amendments will be debated or whether the PJCIS will have any further input into MPs thinking.
The shadow attorney general has made it clear that Labor’s expectation is that amendments that align with recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security should be passed without fanfare next week.
But the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s office is less specific, and told InnovationAus.com yesterday that government would wait until the PJCIS had produced another report on the legislation in early April.
The government has also rejected complaints that the legislation compromises the security of Australians’ communications.
“The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill was passed by the Parliament in December and is now law,” a government spokesman said in a statement to InnovationAus.com.
“The legislation is being actively used by law enforcement and security agencies in a number of investigations to keep Australia safe. The legislation in no way compromises the security of any Australians’ digital communications.”
“The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) is currently reviewing the provisions of the legislation and the Government will await any committee recommendations. “
Labor’s Mr Dreyfus says there had already been bipartisan recommendations from the committee regarding legislation, and that those recommendations should be dealt with sooner rather than later.
“As Labor pointed out last year, further amendments to the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018 are needed to fulfil the bipartisan recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security report published in December,” Mr Dreyfus told InnovationAus.com in a statement this week.
“The government has agreed to allow time for debate on amendments that are consistent with the report, and we look forward to their support. We expect this matter to be dealt with in the first sitting fortnight of Parliament this year.”