Australian Government Unveils Draft Surveillance Bill

On July 24, we reported on a story involving the Australian government’s efforts to bypass online privacy and security measures using legislation. At the time, hundreds of tech companies and experts, under the umbrella of a digital rights organization called Access Now, had addressed an open letter to the Australian government in which they expounded their objection to the latter’s attitude regarding online privacy.

Last Tuesday, the government finally unveiled its draft bill, called the Assistance and Access Bill, which details how tech companies should comply with the requests from law enforcement agencies for private data. The government seems to have shelved its request for backdoors, instead opting for a form of cooperation.

The bill argues that 95% of its most dangerous counter-terrorism targets use encrypted communications to dodge its intelligence agency, known as the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, or ASIO.

The bill details three ways the ASIO could retrieve private data it needs.

Agencies can issue a Technical Assistance Request (TAR), to which companies have the right to not comply with.

If a company has the ability to do so but decides not to, they can be issued with a Technical Assistance Notice (TAN). Unlike TAR, TAN is a compulsory order, and failing to comply with it means that the company could be fined up to 10 million Australian dollars, equivalent to 7.2 million US dollars, or 50,000 Australian dollar fine, equivalent to 36,000 USDs.

Thirdly, the Attorney-General can issue a Technical Capability Notice (TCN). The TCN forces companies, such as Facebook and Apple, to build tools that would allow law enforcement agencies access to encrypted communications. Companies will be allowed 28 days to explain whether the proposal is feasible or not.

Finally, and perhaps most worrying, is the fact that companies will also be legally required to keep quiet if they are issued any of those requests or notices for the purpose of not jeopardizing an investigation.

The government has also opened the bill to public feedback and will be accepting comments until September 10. You can submit your own here.