Encryption forum delayed again


Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

A public forum to discuss the government’s controversial encryption powers has been delayed for a second time as the independent security monitor calls for more submissions to its inquiry.

It comes after two significant inquiries into the new powers have also been delayed by several months, and won’t report back until nearly two years after they were passed into law.

The Assistance and Access laws, which were passed with bipartisan support on the last sitting day of Parliament in 2018, gives law enforcement and intelligence agencies powers to compel tech companies to provide access to encrypted data.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has been tasked with reviewing the Act, and is now slated to hand down its third report into the legislation in September next year, after originally aiming for April.

The committee also referred the legislation to the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) Dr James Renwick for a separate review that will inform its own. The INSLM was meant to report back by March, but after only receiving 15 submissions, this date was pushed back to June next year.

The INSLM was to have participated in a public forum in Sydney this month, but the meeting was delayed until December. The INSLM has now requested that this meeting be further delayed until February next year, with no specific date locked in.

The INSLM has been tasked with investigating with the encryption legislation has the “appropriate safeguards for protecting the rights of individuals, remains proportionate to the threat to national security and remains necessary”.

The submission deadline for the INSLM inquiry was pushed back after it initially received only 15 submissions. There have now been more than 30 submissions to the inquiry.

While several more submissions have been made to the PJCIS inquiry, the security monitor is legally unable to consider these in his own inquiry. Submitters have been asked to either resubmit these or create new ones to give to the INSLM.

Its report, along with the PJCIS’ own effort, will now not be tabled until after the new powers have been in effect for nearly a year.

Dr Renwick recently penned an op-ed for the Australian Financial Review calling for more stakeholders to provide new submissions to his own inquiry.

“Answers to questions about necessity and proportionality cannot be informed by the views of agencies or governments alone, and I see these consultations as vital in reaching my conclusion on these matters and ensuring that my findings and recommendations are evidence-based,” he said.

“So I encourage all stakeholders to engage with the review and make a submission. My office has a good track record of recommendations being acted on, and quite quickly, by both government and Parliament and my report must be tabled promptly.”

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