Below is the text of our submission in regards to the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018.
Free Software Melbourne is an organization of free software users and advocates and we represent the Australian network of Free Software users and developers. Part of our work involves raising awareness of the benefits of strong encryption and teaching people how to use encryption, it is in that capacity that we make this submission and would like make our strong opposition known to the Australian Federal Government, the opposition, other political parties and everyone within the community.
The Access Assistance and Bill, or Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act as legislated in December 2018, is a badly-put together piece of legislation that will not only have negative consequences for Australian technologists and IT companies both financially and in terms of reputation but also puts Australia at the forefront of disrespecting and eroding privacy, free speech and citizens' rights.
There are many points to address, sadly the government has given its constituents a very brief time to respond and so we would like to make a few salient points, although this is by no means an exhaustive list:
- The current government has chosen to introduce some of the most regressive and damaging legislation in the Western World. This will position Australia as a model of anti-democratic and repressive forces. It has done so despite wide condemnation and concern by industry and various bodies such as, for example, the Australian Human Rights Commission.
- The legislation aims to compel companies and individuals to act as spies at the behest of the government and its various agencies such as ASIO, Department of Home Affairs, Federal Police and the Australian Signals Directorate. This list is sure to increase just as it did when the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015 was passed.
- Australia, for example, has condemned Chinese companies like Huawei and will not allow them to work on national infrastructure projects but is itself using similar practices.
- Due to the uncertainties of the current and potentially future requirements on companies operating from Australia, this bill makes Australia substantially less attractive for tech companies, which may choose to not operate from, or in, Australia as a result.
- The legislation will weaken security and privacy for most users, for example, by introducing malware in the guise of operating system updates which makes all operating system updates suspicious and leaves users/the public vulnerable to security exploits. On the other hand, perhaps those who are being targeted can review and manage their own packages and not picking up these updates, thus rendering the whole operation void. These more sophisticated users are still free to move to other platforms that they have control over.
- Other organizations in Australia have also publicly expressed concern over the legislation, such as the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA). AIIA CEO Ron Gauci recently stated “The Act is likely to negatively impact the competitiveness of Australian software and hardware manufacturers in international markets. We believe this could result in declining employment and export revenue, and consequently a significant reduction in local R&D and manufacturing"
- The Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) have also noted that "Future jobs aren't coming from manufacturing, they will come from tech - Australian tech can be world class, but not if people don't trust us."
While there are many more legal, economic, moral and feasibility reasons to object to this legislation, unfortunately the time available for preparing our submission for this review is limited and we have been compelled to submit our objections as they stand.
We ask therefore that the Committee to consider our objections and those raised by other industry groups and experts, and not to do so lightly.
Free Software Melbourne Membership
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