Labor sees encryption laws pass Senate

Australia Business

Labor will introduce further amendments to draft laws giving police and intelligence agencies the power to access encrypted messages, after supporting the bill through the first hurdle of parliament.

Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke said Labor were only given the 173 draft amendments at 6.30am on Thursday morning, hours before they were introduced to parliament.

“We will be seeking in the Senate to pursue further amendments to make sure that this bill properly reflects the findings of the intelligence committee,” Mr Burke said.

Labor says the way that the bill is drafted is too broad and confusing, including the definition of “whole class of technology”.

“What does that mean? No ordinary person can understand it, and no lawyer can understand it,” shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter introduced the amendments to the bill on Thursday, after the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s advisory report was tabled late on Wednesday, putting forward 17 recommendations.

Mr Porter told the lower house the new powers are necessary to prevent further terrorist events.

The laws strike the right balance between national security and maintaining the privacy of Australians, he assured the house.

They include extending the powers to state and territory police forces and ensuring they cover a broad range of serious offences and not simply terrorism.

These were both issues Labor had argued against but gave way on.

Mr Morrison insists ordinary Australians will not be captured by the laws designed to stop terrorists and pedophiles from communicating in secret.

“These laws are used to catch the scum that try to bring our country down, and we can’t give them a leave pass,” Mr Morrison told Sydney’s 2GB radio on Thursday.

The federal government and Labor this week struck an agreement on the legislation, aimed at fighting terrorism and grappling with other serious crimes.

The laws are designed to help security agencies and police access communications on encrypted applications like WhatsApp, which are used in an estimated 95 per cent of serious criminal activity.

But under pressure from the opposition, the bill will also now include further scrutiny of the laws in 2019, limiting the powers to only “serious offences” and defining the term “systemic weakness”.

Attorney-General Christian Porter says police and national security agencies will still require a warrant to access the encrypted messages.

“All this legislation does is request – and if they decline, require – the tech companies to assist us in making good on the warrant,” Mr Porter said.

Releasing the committee report on Wednesday, chair Andrew Hastie said it was the result of more than three days of public hearings and extensive briefings from law enforcement and security agencies.

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