Labor’s Rowland warns against rushing encryption bill

Shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland has called for the government to “engage directly” with industries and stakeholder bodies likely to be affected by its proposed encryption bill “regarding the significant concerns they have raised about the measures in this bill, with a view to developing workable solutions.”

That engagement “should include a series of industry workshops to develop scenarios and stress test them against the processes and mechanisms set out in the bill.”

“This will help to develop a better understanding of where legitimate objectives encounter technical barriers, or when there is an absence of limiting factors, or adequate accountability, in circumstances where requests can be issued,” Rowland said in remarks prepared for the CommsDay Congress in Melbourne.

The government last month introduced theTelecommunication and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, a mere 10 days after closing a public consultation on an exposure draft of the bill.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Securityis currently considering the bill.

Rowland said that although there has been a “bipartisan approach to national security,” that does not “extinguish our capacity to have robust and constructive debates”.

“It is proper that the capabilities of our security agencies adapt to remain effective in the digital age,” the Labor MP said. “Our collective task is to work together to get the details and the balance right.”

Rowland said that full scope of the bill remains unclear in terms of its practical application. She said that the “proposed assistance framework does appear to go beyond encryption and potentially into the sphere of modifying devices and software at different points in the service stack.”

“This, to the best of my knowledge, is new territory and therefore needs to be scrutinised rigorously,” Rowland said.

“Labor was and remains concerned at the haste with which the bill was introduced to parliament,” the MP said

“We want to see an appropriate number of days allocated to public hearings to allow experts, industry and civil rights advocates to put forward their views and respond to questions in a public forum.”

NBN debate

In her address Rowland said that debate over the NBN is shifting, with the new network having “reached a point where it is almost entirely in design, construction or deployed mdash; a reality which cannot be undone through politicalwill or legislative change.”

“As a resultthere is likely to be less emphasis on the issues which have been the focal point for the last five years, and a greater focus on the medium term policy settings – namely, the economics of the NBN,” she said.

“As a party vying to be a credible alternative government, Labor recognisesthe history and politics of the NBN do not havemuchpractical bearing on the decisions which have to be made next,” Rowland said.

Although she doesn’t expect there to be a “flowering of bipartisanship on the NBN,” Rowland said where possible, Labor and the Coalition should identify common ground based on outcomes they want to see given the reality on the ground.

“What I am outlining is a candid assessment that the NBN has entered a phase where circumstances, some operational, and some arising from changes in leadership, provide us with an opportunity to shift our attention,” Rowland said.

“In terms of this main game mdash; which I deem to be key questions about the future of the NBN and its structural settings mdash; it would be sensible for the major parties to identify common ground on the next steps where feasible to do so.”

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