28 June 2002
Senate rejects email snooping law - victory for online privacy
A Federal Government plan to allow government agencies to snoop on email, SMS and voice mail messages without an interception warrant was rejected by the Senate yesterday.
The government joined with opposition parties in voting against a proposed government amendment to interception laws that analysts say would unnecessarily extend government surveillance powers.
The rejected amendment was part of the 'Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill 2002', one of the government's package of anti-terrorism Bills.
A broad range of government agencies would have gained power to intercept and read email, SMS and voice mail messages without a warrant. An interception warrant would have remained necessary to listen in on telephone calls.
Online privacy rights group, Electronic Frontiers Australia ("EFA"), said the government back down was a victory for the privacy rights of the many ordinary people who use new technologies to communicate.
"The government sought to adversely shift the long-established balance between individuals' right to privacy and legitimate law enforcement agency needs," said Irene Graham, EFA Executive Director.
"Email, SMS and voice mail messages would have been less protected from government intrusion than a telephone call. This is contrary to the Government's frequently stated preference for 'technology neutral' laws."
"The amendment would have allowed interception of messages while automatically delayed and stored during transit on an ISPs' or telephone carriers' equipment, but not while in transit over a telephone line. This is as silly as a law saying postal mail may be lawfully intercepted without a warrant while stored in Australia Post's premises, but not while being transported in Australia Post's vehicles."
EFA said the government back down resulted from widespread community criticism culminating in opposition parties informing the government they would not support the government proposal.
"The ALP proposed amendments to the Bill to the government in May, requiring continuation of the need for an interception warrant to access telecommunications stored during transit, but the government refused to support that. The Democrats had also stated they would not support the government's proposal. Apparently the Government found it had no chance of majority support in the Senate and so decided to oppose its own amendment to the interception laws."
"We commend the work of the ALP, the Democrats and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee in protecting the privacy rights of users of new telecommunications technologies. We are delighted to see a growing number of parliamentarians showing they understand the technologies and related issues."
The Government said it will include the rejected amendment to email, SMS and voice mail interceptions laws in a future Bill.
EFA believes the government is likely to re-introduce the proposal during the Spring sittings.
"The Government failed to achieve passage of the amendment in a package of extremely controversial Bills. They may hope no-one will be paying close attention next time around."
"We call on the public and opposition parties to remain vigilant."
-- ENDS --
- Background information
- Contact details for media
EFA Campaign Action Alert, 31 May 2002
EFA analysis of Bill and effect on existing privacy protections
EFA's page Australian On-line Surveillance and Interception Laws.
Senate Hansard, 27 June 2002
Ms Irene Graham Mr Kimberley Heitman EFA Executive Director EFA Chair Phone: 0412 997 163 Phone: 0439 938 233 Email: ed at efa.org.au Email: chair at efa.org.au
Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc -- http://www.efa.org.au/
representing Internet users concerned with on-line freedoms
URL of this release: http://www.efa.org.au/Publish/PR020628.html