Proposed cybersecurity bill breaches privacy rights and rights to freedom of expression


Bill will weaken encryption and has significant privacy implications

On 28th September 2018, the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR)  warned the government that the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, to provide law enforcement and security agencies with new powers to access the communications data of Australian citizens has “significant privacy implications”.

According to ALHR, the bill seeks to respond to the challenges posed by encryption and will allow covert installation by government of programmes that are effectively malware into Australians’ computers and phones and would penalise people who refuse to give the government their passwords. The law, if passed, will also allow the government to require the creation of vulnerabilities which are effectively backdoors into secure applications – potentially opening those applications up to abuse by criminals and rendering technology for Australians less secure than technology for the rest of the world.

ALHR President Kerry Weste said:

“The measures are a disproportionate response to the security concerns which are its rationale, involving unjustified encroachments upon Australians’ individual privacy and potentially disastrous world-wide consequences for communications security.”

The organisation said that the bill gives government inappropriate powers without adequate checks and balances and that it interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for a private life and to the protection of personal data.

On 18th October 2018, The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Joseph Cannataci, also raised concerns about the bill calling on the government to drop its "fatally flawed" proposed legislation that forces tech companies to help spy on citizens in various ways, including granting access to phones and other devices. He said:

"It is difficult to see how the Australian Government can achieve its aims without weakening encryption and thereby Australia’s cybersecurity. The legislation established in Australia is important internationally due to the risk of malware introduced into one device, spreading laterally throughout IT environments – a risk that is growing with the convergence of cyber and electronics and of major concern to technical and cyber security communities."

Cannataci also was concerned by the lack of independent judicial oversight of the use of these powers and questioned the case for the legislation, the haste with which the Bill has been introduced into the Parliament and the apparent failure to consider alternate means.

The bill was introduced into parliament on 20th September 2018 and referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (the Committee).

Peaceful Assembly

Thousands hold protest against offshore detention

On 27th October 2018, more than 1,000 people gathered in Sydney and about 500 protesters in Melbourne to protest against the government’s offshore refugee detention centres. Protesters said that “people are living in detention with no hope, with no future, nothing to live for, nothing to strive for, nothing to dream about, it’s criminal” and that “the behaviour of our government and the government before it, our politicians, have been disgusting”.

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, currently anyone who tries to enter Australia by sea is sent to detention camps on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island or to Nauru in the Pacific for processing. Human rights groups consider Australia’s offshore processing regime deliberately abusive and have called on the government to immediately transfer all asylum seekers and refugees to Australia or another safe country. Around 1,600 people are believed to be still on Nauru and Manus.

The health of asylum seekers on Nauru has shot to prominence in the past few weeks, with the Prime Minister under immense pressure to bring sick children and their families to Australia. As of October 2018, 11 children were evacuated in for urgent medical treatment, leaving 52 still in detention.

On 10th September 2018, the new UN new human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet said that Australia’s offshore processing immigration regime is “an affront to the protection of human rights”. Bachelet said the newly concluded global compact on migration could help countries cooperate on migration and would protect the rights of some of the world’s most vulnerable. She called on Australia, a member of this UN human rights council “to join the consensus of the global community, adopt the compact and revise the country’s policies with respect to people arriving at its borders without a visa”.