Still time to speak up about data retention bill, Internet Society says

The Internet Society of Australia has warned that the rush to implement a data retention regime could potentially damage Australia's economy.

"The Internet is the essential engine in a modern digital economy," the organisation's CEO, Laure Patton, said in a statement.

"If we over-react to current circumstances we put at risk Australia’s long term economic future."

The bill as it stands is "deeply flawed"

"There is still time for more work to be done and, of course, the bill could be amended when it is debated in the Senate," Patton said.

"The Internet Society of Australia contends that the data retention legislation as it is currently drafted simply will not achieve the government's stated aims, while constituting a serious threat to existing civil rights protections," Patton told a 29 January hearing of the inquiry into the government's data retention bill.

"We understand the government's concern to find effective measures to deal with national security. However, we argue that the bill is deeply flawed, its coverage is unclear and it does not reflect the complexity and diversity of internet communications.

"It will add significant costs to service providers, which will undoubtedly be passed on to consumers, and will seriously hamper competition.

"Significantly, it will not reach some offshore communications services widely used by many Australians, potentially providing a loophole capable of exploitation by precisely the groups and individuals the government seeks to target for surveillance.

"The bill represents a challenge to the right of Australians to the protection of private information. This has the potential to reduce the confidence that Australians have in their internet use."

In addition to a public submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security's (PJCIS) inquiry, the organisation submitted confidential technical report and offered access to experts, Patton said.

"We want to ensure that informed policy decisions are made on the basis of evidence and we have the ability to provide the technical expertise required for this to occur," Patton said today.

"There is mounting evidence from other countries that simply applying constraints to how the Internet operates does not increase the detection of criminal activity, especially when it comes to random acts of terrorism."

"The bill is very complex, even for people in the know," the CEO said.

"Unfortunately few outside the IT world are aware of the potential consequences of this legislation on them personally. There's still time for significant changes to be made to the bill before it goes to the Senate. But this will only happen if people speak up."

The PJCIS's report is due to be tabled today. Reportedly Labor and Coalition members of the committee have backed the legislation, with only minor amendments proposed.

Greens to attempt to amend bill

Senator Scott Ludlam has said the Greens are likely to attempt to amend the data retention bill.

"The Australian Greens will wait to see the tabled report before drawing final conclusions, but Labor should expect a sharp backlash if it is seriously intending to support Tony Abbott's mass surveillance proposal," the party's communications spokesperson said in a statement issued earlier today.

"Labor spokespeople created an expectation that they would at the bare minimum seek to exempt journalists and their sources from the mass surveillance scheme. If they have failed to do so, then the Greens will introduce these amendments in the Senate...

"Despite hearing months of evidence that the mandatory data retention proposal is dangerous, expensive and open-ended, the Labor Party appears to have caved. Australians need an opposition to stand up against this reckless and divisive Prime Minister; but it looks like the ALP have just vacated the field."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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