International Coalition Renews Call for Australian Parliament to Amend its Dangerous Encryption Law

Press Release
July 16, 2019

Last week, an international civil liberties and technology coalition renewed its call for the Australian Parliament to amend its new encryption law in order to protect digital security and human rights. The international coalition of 36 civil society organizations, tech companies, and trade associations filed comments with the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) in response to a mandatory review of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018. The coalition includes large international tech companies that provide encrypted messaging apps and other communications services that rely on strong digital security.

Specifically, the PJCIS is seeking input on seven aspects of the legislation. On behalf of the coalition, New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) submitted comments to address these areas of focus. The coalition’s comments continue to emphasize the negative impact the Act will have on cybersecurity, privacy, and freedom of expression due to the expansive agency powers it creates. They also address the PJCIS’s questions regarding the Act’s interaction with foreign laws, including the U.S. CLOUD Act, and its impact on Australian industry and competitiveness. This submission marks the fifth round of comments OTI has filed with the Australian Parliament on behalf of an international coalition of civil society organizations, tech companies, and trade associations.

In particular, the coalition contends that

  • The Parliament should narrow the scope of powers granted to the government under the Assistance and Access Act 2018;
  • The Parliament should amend the law to provide clear authorization procedures and robust oversight mechanisms;
  • Unless the Assistance and Access Act 2018 is repealed or significantly amended, it would substantially expand the authority of Australia’s intelligence agencies by granting them unprecedented powers without adequate oversight;
  • Unless the Assistance and Access Act 2018 is repealed or significantly amended, it imperils Australia’s ability to qualify for a bilateral agreement under the U.S. CLOUD Act;
  • The new law has a significant negative impact on Australian industry and competitiveness; and
  • The Act be amended to provide for public oversight with additional reporting requirements, including mandatory annual reviews with a publicly-available summary.

The following quote may be attributed to Sharon Bradford Franklin, director of surveillance & cybersecurity policy at New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“Hopefully, the committee’s new focus on the interaction with foreign laws and the competitiveness of Australian industry will lead Parliament to recognize the harms created by the Assistance and Access Act 2018. The Australian Parliament should ensure that this new review is a meaningful one, and should work to mitigate the many threats to digital security, economic competitiveness, and human rights posed by the new law. Otherwise, these harms will be faced first and foremost by Australians, but also by digital technology users well beyond the country’s borders.”