House of Representatives

Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018

Second Reading Speech

Mr PORTER (Pearce-Attorney-General)

By way of summarising all of the second reading contributions, I rise to speak on the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, a bill which is urgently required to strengthen the ability of Australia's law enforcement and national security agencies to deal with challenges presented by modern communications technology. Australia's prosperity is fuelled by the technologies of our age-that's self-evident-but everyday Australians rely on digital communications for banking, shopping, education, health, communications and other key services. Australians expect the digital platforms they use to be secure. That is why the government strongly supports the use of ubiquitous encryption to protect personal, commercial and governmental information.

Encryption is a vital part of the internet, computer and data security, supporting Australia's economic growth and national security. However, we would be naive to think that digital technologies which drive our economic prosperity are immune to exploitation. The same technologies that protect us online are being employed by terrorists, by paedophiles, by drug smugglers and by human traffickers to conceal their illicit activities from law enforcement and security agencies. Put simply: encrypted communication is helping criminals and terrorists to remain anonymous and to operate beyond the reach of the law.

Tellingly, 95 per cent of ASIO's most dangerous counterterrorism targets use encrypted communications, with encryption impacting intelligence coverage in nine out of 10 priority cases. Encryption has significantly degraded law enforcement and intelligence agencies' ability to lawfully collect intelligence and conduct investigations. The Australian Federal Police and ASIO suggest that, by 2020, almost all communications amongst terrorists and organised criminal groups will be masked by very strong encryption. As we move towards ubiquitous encryption, the challenge it poses for law enforcement and national security agencies will continue to increase.

The assistance and access bill is a very necessary and proportionate response to these challenges. The legislation introduces new tools that complement existing powers available to law enforcement and national security agencies. The bill establishes a framework for agencies to seek assistance from relevant industry stakeholders in support of law enforcement and national security investigations and operations. The reforms ensure agencies can obtain legitimate and necessary assistance from communications providers when it is reasonable, proportional, practicable and technically feasible to do so. Agencies will also be empowered to seek assistance from offshore providers supplying communications services and devices in Australia. This reflects the modern nature of the communications industry and ensures that agencies are able to seek assistance from those best placed in the communications supply chain.

The bill also ensures that our agencies can access lawfully obtained content and data. This is enabled by the introduction of new computer access warrants for law enforcement, enabling them to covertly obtain evidence directly from a device, and the strengthening of law enforcement and national security agencies' ability to covertly access data through warrants and orders for assistance. Importantly, these measures are supported by strong safeguards and limitations to protect the privacy of Australians, maintain the security of digital systems and ensure that agency powers are only ever used appropriately via lawful processes for national security purposes.

The legislation clearly prohibits the creation of so-called back doors for any reason. Companies cannot be required to create systemic weaknesses in their encrypted products or be required to build a decryption capability. The legislation does not allow for mass surveillance. Rather, the provisions in the bill assist authorities in their investigation of individuals who are reasonably suspected of being involved in committing a serious offence or are of national security concern. Access to personal information must be authorised by existing warrants and authorisations, which are subject to their own safeguards, including judicial oversight.

The need for the powers in this bill has become more urgent in the light of the recent fatal terrorist attack in Melbourne and the subsequent disruption of alleged planning for a mass casualty attack by three individuals last month-also, sadly, in Melbourne. Individuals in both of these cases are known to have used encrypted communications. ASIO's Director-General of Security, Mr Duncan Lewis, informed the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security last week that there is an operational urgency to this legislation. He advised the committee:

The impact of encryption on our operational effectiveness is real.

He said:

It has degraded our ability to identify terrorist activity.

He also noted that the risk of further attacks is heightened as we head towards Christmas. At the same hearing the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Mr Andrew Colvin, told the committee that he is:

... concerned with the increase in criminal communications that are beyond our lawful ability to intercept and/or view. The operational urgency ... is ... very real ...

Commissioner Colvin has also written:

What this bill does, in essence, is give police a fighting chance ...

Likewise, Assistant Commissioner Neil Paterson of Victoria Police told the parliamentary joint committee:

At the moment, we're fighting with one hand tied behind our back by not being able to lawfully access the data that we need-

To keep Victorians safe. We on the government benches implore all of our parliamentary colleagues to support this bill and the agreed amendments to ensure law enforcement and national security agencies can lawfully access the data that they need to keep Australians safe over the Christmas period and beyond.

The bill reflects an extensive three-stage consultation process with industry, community organisations and the public. I acknowledge the significant work in this regard by the former Minister for Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity, the member for Hume, and the Minister for Home Affairs, the member for Dickson. I also acknowledge the tireless efforts of the staff in the Department of Home Affairs, their colleagues in ASIO, the AFP and parliamentary counsel and thank them for their work on this legislation. I also thank the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for its comprehensive review of the bill.

The amendments recommended by the parliamentary joint committee increase transparency and strengthen the existing accountability and oversight measures. They have been agreed upon and ensure that the powers in the bill are to be used only when required to facilitate the legitimate and lawful operations of law enforcement and national security agencies. The amendments also enhance measures which prevent so-called 'back doors' from being introduced into networks and devices. The bill before the House ultimately strikes an appropriate balance between maintaining the privacy and integrity of networks and devices and ensuring agencies continue to protect the Australian community. For all those reasons I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Bird ) : The question that the bill be now read a second time.

A division having been called and the bells having been rung-

The SPEAKER: As there are fewer than five members on the side for the noes in this division, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

Question agreed to, Mr Bandt and Mr Wilkie voting no.

Bill read a second time.