Encryption review is further delayed


Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

A major review into the government’s controversial new encryption powers has been pushed back by nearly six months after the independent security monitor asked for more time to look into the legislation.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) is currently conducting its third review of the Assistance and Access Act, which gives government agencies and law enforcement the power to compel tech companies to provide access to encrypted data.

The PJCIS also referred the legislation to Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) Dr James Renwick, the first time this has ever been done by Parliament.

But as revealed by InnovationAus.com last month, the INSLM was forced to push back the submission deadline for its own inquiry after it received only 15 submissions initially. The security monitor was originally set to deliver its report on the encryption powers by March next year, but this has now been pushed back to June.

With the PJCIS planning to use this report to inform its own inquiry, the committee’s own reporting deadline has been pushed back from 13 April 2020 to 30 September next year.

The Coalition has to go through the formality of confirming this in legislation, with the bill introduced to the lower house on Thursday.

The reporting date has been pushed back to allow the committee to “better accommodate and consider the findings of the INSLM”.

“By extending the review date for the PJCIS and the INSLM, the bill promotes the right to protection against arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy…the bill achieves this by ensuring there is an appropriate degree of scrutiny for the powers contained in the Assistance and Access Act,” the government’s legislation reads.

“This is important because the Assistance and Access Act limits the right to privacy for the legitimate objective of protecting national security and public order.”

The PJCIS is investigating the encryption legislation as a whole and has received 27 submissions to date. The INSLM is looking at whether the Act has “appropriate safeguards for protecting the rights of individuals, remains proportionate to the threat of national security and remains necessary”.

The INSLM has now made public 27 submissions that it has received. The original PJCIS inquiry received 71 submissions, but the independent monitor is unable to consider these in his own investigation.

“I am aware that a number of submissions have been lodged with the PJCIS. However, I cannot have regard to those submissions without the express reference by their authors to my review,” Dr Renwick said.

“The Assistance and Access Act has attracted considerable public attention, both within Australia and internationally. I am aware that a large number of organisations hold concerns about the legislation, and I encourage these organisations to make a submission to the review.

“Submissions are critical to my understanding of the legislation, as well as consideration of the issues and concerns held by industry, individuals and non-government organisations.”

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