Action Alert

31 May 2002

Privacy of communication under attack.

Government wants more power to spy on your private email, voice mail and SMS messages.

Contact Federal politicians and urge them to reject proposed surveillance law.

Senate expected to debate (and possibly vote on) Bill
in week of 17 June 2002.

Please redistribute this alert, but only before 17 June 2002
and only to appropriate lists, newsgroups and contacts.

URL of this alert:





The Issue:

Proposed changes to the Telecommunications Interception Act (C'th) would give government agencies (not only police forces) powers to intercept and read email, voice mail and SMS messages, without an interception warrant (as is presently required). Furthermore, agencies that are not allowed to obtain and use interception warrants (like the Taxation Office, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Immigration Department, etc) would gain the power to intercept and read private communications. Communications made using new technologies would have less privacy protection than a telephone call. For more information about the Bill, see the Background section below.

What YOU Can Do Now:

Please make personal contact urgently with Members of Federal Parliament and inform them that you are opposed to the change to the telecommunications interception law. More information about what you can do, and politicians' contact details, is below.



About the Bill

The Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill 2002 ("the Bill") is one of a package of anti-terrorism Bills, named the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 [No.2] and Related Bills.

Although many aspects of the package of Bills have attracted wide-spread, extensive criticism (including by members of the Liberal/National Coalition government), comparatively little attention has been given to proposed changes to telecommunications interception laws.

It is difficult to believe that a Coalition government, dominated by a party which claims to stand for individual freedom, could propose such a drastic attack on the privacy of communications. However, when considered in the context of other provisions of the package of Bills, it is not so surprising.

The Bill would adversely shift the long-established balance between individuals' right to privacy and legitimate law enforcement agency needs. It would allow government agencies to intercept and read the contents of communications passing over a telecommunications system, that are delayed and stored in transit, without a warrant of any type. Email, voice mail and SMS messages are stored on a service provider's equipment pending delivery to the intended recipient and could be read by a government agency before the intended recipient even knew a message had been sent to them.

Under current law, an interception warrant is required to access such messages, the same as is required to intercept a telephone call. An interception warrant may only be issued for investigations involving serious criminal offences that are specified in the Act (e.g. murder, kidnapping, trafficking in drugs, organised crime).

The Government has phrased their proposed changes in a way that appears intended to confuse debate around this issue. They assert the changes merely "clarify" existing law. In fact, the "clarification" will result in wide-ranging expansion of surveillance powers.

Government agencies that are not authorised to use interception warrants, like the Taxation Office, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Immigration Department, etc, will be allowed to access and read undelivered email, voice mail and SMS messages that they are not permitted to access under current law.

The Government has attempted to convince citizens and journalists that a search warrant, instead of an interception warrant, will be necessary under the proposed law. Careful reading of statements made by the Government's representatives clearly show otherwise. Even if amendments to require a search warrant were made, issue of search warrants is not subject to the rigorous safeguards and controls that govern issue of interception warrants. Among other things, only criminal enforcement agencies (e.g. some, but not all, police forces and crime commissions) and the national security agency ASIO are permitted to obtain and use interception warrants, while civil enforcement agencies are permitted to obtain and use search warrants.

The proposed law has nothing to do with catching terrorists. If email, voice mail and SMS are less protected from interception than telephone calls (as the Government intends) then presumably terrorists will use telephone calls and faxes rather than emails and other messages that are stored during transit.

Clause 15 of the Bill must be amended to require a telecommunications interception warrant to access stored communications. There are no justifiable grounds, nor has the Government stated any reason, for affording less privacy protection to communications made using new technologies than is afforded to traditional telephone calls. The Government frequently cites enthusiasm for "technology neutral" laws, this Bill is certainly not.

Essential freedoms, once lost, are never regained. If we allow the government to move us ever closer to the totalitarian surveillance society foreseen by Orwell, we lower human dignity and respect for humanity to the same level as those who seek to destroy civilisation.

More detailed information about the existing and proposed law is available on EFA's main page about the Bill at:

Views of Politicians and Parties

A number of politicians (including members of the Government) have expressed concerns about the ease with which email, voice mail and SMS messages would be able to be accessed. However, it is doubtful the Bill will be rejected unless politicians (especially members of the Liberal/National coalition and the ALP) are made more highly aware of citizens' opposition to it. Views expressed by some politicians to date are below.

Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee:

Committee Report, 8 May 2002:

"The Committee recommends that the Attorney-General review the current law on access to stored communications of delayed messages services with a view to amending the Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill 2002 so that the accessing of such data requires a telecommunication interception warrant." Security.pdf

The majority of members of the Committee are members of the Liberal Party/National Party Government. However, EFA understands the Government does not intend to accept the Committee's recommendation.

Liberal Party:

Reportedly, a small group of Liberal Party members on the backbench committee overseeing the Attorney-General's portfolio are attempting to convince the Attorney-General and the Government to amend the 'security' Bills. This group reportedly includes Sen. George Brandis (Qld), Sen. Marise Payne (NSW), Julie Bishop MP (WA) and Christopher Pyne MP (SA). (Ref: 'Payne and gain' by Margot Kingston, Web Diary, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 May 2002.)

EFA does not know whether those politicians are endeavouring to achieve changes to the interception Bill, nor whether they are well aware of the issue.

Australian Labor Party (ALP):

Extract from a speech by Senator John Faulkner, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, 16 May 2002:

"...We are not convinced that emails should have any lesser protection than telephone calls-that is, you need an interception warrant that offers appropriate privacy protections, as opposed to a search warrant..."

Extract from ALP's reply to letters about the package of Bills, 15 May 2002:

"E-mails and other such communications should be protected from easy interception."

Concerningly, the above remarks suggest the ALP is open to being convinced by the Government that emails should have less protection than telephone calls.

Australian Democrats:

Extract from an article by Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 7 May 2002:

"...behind the heavy-handed provisions of the legislation are some subtle proposals that have gone largely unnoticed. These are changes to the powers of authorities to intercept communications between private individuals in forms such as email, SMS and voicemail. Bundled with so many outrageously arbitrary powers, there is a danger that these more subtle changes will be quietly pushed through.
Now they want to gain access under the same loophole to the contents of communications such as emails, SMS messages and voicemail. No warrants, no privacy, no accountability. In most cases, the authorities will just ask the service provider for the information, telling them they need it for law enforcement purposes. You will never know if your emails are being read.
In this climate, there is every chance the Government will succeed in obtaining the power it seeks. The Labor Party has repeatedly buckled on civil rights and social justice issues as soon as the Government mentions the words ''terrorism" or ''refugees". If the Government's terrorism bills pass the Senate it will be yet another triumph of politics over principle. ..."



1. Contact Members of Federal Parliament urgently
2. Write letters to the editors of newspapers

1. Contact Members of Federal Parliament

  • Names and contact details for key members of Federal Parliament are listed below.

  • The effectiveness of means of contact from most effective to least effective are:
  • General Points
    • Keep letters brief and no longer than one page.
    • Tips for writing letters and sending emails are available on EFA's page: How to Get Politicians' Attention.
    • The main point to stress is that the Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill 2002 must be rejected, unless it is amended to require a telecommunication interception warrant to access stored communications of delayed messages services, i.e. email, voice mail, SMS messages, etc. (as recommended by the Senate Committee).
    • When writing to Liberal Party politicians, you may wish to remind them that giving government more powers to spy on people's private lives, and especially without appropriate controls, checks and balances, is contrary to the beliefs Liberal Party members claim to have:
      "We believe in the inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples; and we work towards a lean government that minimises interference in our daily lives...
      We believe in those most basic freedoms of parliamentary democracy - the freedom of thought, worship, speech and association. ...
      In short, we simply believe in individual freedom ..."
  • Feedback
    • Please send a brief email advising of any response you receive from a politician to: <>
      The feedback you provide will help EFA to further refine this and future campaigns.

2. Write letters to the editors of newspapers

Published letters raise awareness of an issue among readers who would not otherwise know about it. Also, politicians and/or their staff generally monitor the letters pages of newspapers. Even if not published, your letter could be instrumental in drawing to the newspaper's attention that the issue is of public concern and should be reported on by their staff.

Addresses for emailing letters to editors of newspapers are available at:



More info about existing and proposed law:

More detailed information about the existing law and the Bill is available at:

Contact Details for Politicians:

Mail address for all persons listed below is:
   Parliament House, Canberra, ACT, 2600.

  • Your electorate's representatives:

    It is important to contact your elected representatives as well as the key members of Parliament listed below.

    If you do not know the names of your representatives, you can find out as follows:

  • Key members of Federal Parliament:

    Liberal Party (Government)

    The Hon. Daryl Williams, MP
    Attorney General and Member for Tangney
    Ph: (02) 6277 7300 or (08) 9316 3633
    Fax: (02) 6273 4102 or (08) 9364 9971

    (Note: The below list of Liberal Party members are believed to be attempting to change the Government's position on the package of Bills. They should be encouraged to work hard to change the Government's position on the proposed interception law, not criticised or attacked.)

    Senator George Brandis
    Senator for Queensland
    Ph: (07) 3001 8180
    Fax: (07) 3001 8181

    Senator Marise Payne
    Senator for New South Wales
    Ph: (02) 9893 5151
    Fax: (02) 9893 5150

    Ms Julie Bishop, MP
    Member for Curtin [WA]
    Ph: (02) 6277 4932 or (08) 9388 0288
    Fax: (02) 6277 8589 or (08) 9388 0299

    Mr Christopher Pyne, MP
    Member for Sturt [SA]
    Ph: (02) 6277 4842 or (08) 8363 0666
    Fax: (02) 6277 8581 or (08) 8363 0030

    Mr Petro Georgiou, MP
    Member for Kooyong [Vic]
    Ph: (02) 6277 4419 or (03) 9882 3677
    Fax: (02) 6277 4990 or (03) 9882 3773

    Senator Brett Mason
    Senator for Queensland
    Ph: (07) 3422 1990 or 1800 17 7498
    Fax: (07) 3422 1991

    National Party (Government)

    Senator Nigel Scullion
    Senator for the Northern Territory
    Ph: (08) 8981 3567
    Fax: (08) 8981 3022

    Australian Labor Party

    The Hon. Simon Crean, MP
    Leader of the Opposition and Member for Hotham
    Ph: (02) 6277 4022 or (03) 9545 6211
    Fax: (02) 6277 8495 or (03) 9545 6299

    Senator the Hon. John Faulkner
    Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and
       Senator for New South Wales
    Ph: (02) 9719 8100 or 1800 80 0609
    Fax: (02) 9719 8078

    Australian Democrats

    Senator Natasha Stott Despoja
    Leader of the Australian Democrats and
       Senator for South Australia
    Ph: (08) 8232 7595
    Fax: (08) 8232 7601

    Australian Greens

    Senator Bob Brown
    Senator for Tasmania
    Ph: (03) 6234 1633
    Fax: (03) 6234 1577



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