Greens to block telco interception bill

The Greens will seek to block the Federal Government’s proposed Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010, communications spokesperson, Scott Ludlam has told the Senate.

Ludlam, continuing his stinging attack on the bill, said its current form significantly expanded the scope of the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

“There appears to be a bipartisan consensus to simply let this [bill] sail through and we won’t be having it,” he said. “The Australian Greens will be certainly voting against this bill.

"[It] is a step too far.”

According to Ludlam, the government had provided no justification for the bill’s expansion of ASIO’s current mandate around telecommunication intercepts.

“Henceforth [ASIO] will be on call,” he said. “We need to be very careful before we expand the mandate of a clandestine agency with very, very sketchy reporting obligations to the people of this country… into mainstream law enforcement and tax matters.

“There is a creeping expansion of the security and intelligence agencies, and law enforcement agencies, to tap our phones, to read our Web traffic, and use all the tools of surveillance they use around the world to spy on people.”

According to Ludlam, the bill required amendments to detail how many requests for monitoring ASIO received from and how many agency resources the requests took up.

“Do folk just have spare time to take phone calls from other ministers and departments to request telecommunications intercepts and other services?" he said. "If they do, why are we hiring them in the first place? Why this enormous expansion of ASIO’s resourcing?”

The bill, currently before the Senate, seeks to enable greater cooperation, assistance and information sharing within Australia’s law enforcement and national security agencies.

Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator George Brandis, said the Opposition would support the bill despite the Greens’ concerns.

“The intention of the bill is not to authorise operations outside the agencies’ charters but to permit operations of limited purposes to enhance interoperability and improve joint activities via information sharing,” he said.

Brandis acknowledged that the bill was “somewhat densely drafted” and given the intrusive powers of agencies such as ASIO, said it was important that established agency boundaries were maintained.

“The Coalition cannot support the amendments circulated by the Australian Greens,” he said.

“These amendments would require details of the assistance sought and rendered under this bill to be published in ASIO’s annual report. The Coalition is concerned these details may be highly sensitive.”

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @tlohman

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