THE FEDERAL Government’s Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 2006 came under fire last week from the Law Council of Australia, which expressed serious misgivings about its content, purpose and socio-legal ramifications.
Law Council President John North spoke to a Senate hearing on 15 March and denounced the bill.
North told Lawyers Weekly that “as president, I spoke to the Senate Committee looking into the Bill and informed them that this bill has far wider implications than opposing terrorism.”
The major issue with the Bill according to North, is that “it is the first time in history that our authorities will be able to listen to the private calls of innocent people.” According to the proposed legislation, both telephone conversations and e-mail correspondence will fall within the ambit of counter-terrorist actions. None of these interceptions will be revealed to the third parties surveilled if the new laws are put through.
“The implications of this are huge”, North said, upholding the Law Council’s view that without properly limiting the laws, any or all Australians might fall within their parameters and consequently suffer a serious deprivation of fundamental privacy rights.
The laws are the latest in a swathe of counter-terrorist measures the Government has sought to implement in the last two years, including controversial sedition and detention laws brought to bear to allay fears of terrorist actions in Australia.
In his speech of 1 March 2006, ALP Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Reconciliation and the Arts, Peter Garrett, said in relation to the Bill that “further consideration by the Senate Committee will be necessary” and that parliament needs to “scrutinise very closely” the new powers to be granted to ASIO and law enforcement agencies.
Garrett said that especially with the constant arrival of new proposals, such as the national identity card, he believes there are now “very profound challenges that the new digital and communications technologies present to us as lawmakers, as well as the challenges that they present to the law enforcement agencies”.