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Australia commences work on electronic surveillance law reforms


Under proposed reforms, Home Affairs will look to revamp various concepts regarding when law enforcement agencies will be able to access data to prevent serious crimes and security threats.
The Australian government has commenced work to reform the country’s electronic surveillance laws that have been labelled as overly complex, inconsistent, and incompatible with the current technology landscape. The federal government committed to reforming these laws earlier this year after a review into Australia’s intelligence community found comprehensive legislative changes were required, specifically in repealing existing powers and combining them to avoid duplication, contradictory definitions, and any further ad hoc amendments to existing laws. “In short, we conclude that the legislative framework governing electronic surveillance in Australia is no longer fit for purpose,” the review said. The review said that problems with the framework have accumulated after 40 years of continued amendments. The laws in question enable agencies to use electronic or technical means, that would normally be unlawful, to covertly listen to a person’s conversations, access a person’s electronic data, observe certain aspects of a person’s behaviour, and track a person’s movements for the purposes of preventing serious crimes and security threats. Read more: Australia’s tangle of electronic surveillance laws needs unravelling The federal government’s initial work, coming in the form of a discussion paper [PDF], has set out the guiding principles for how it will approach making these electronic surveillance law reforms. Among these principles is that the reforms will look to develop a new single Act that better protects information and data, and ensures that law enforcement agencies have the appropriate powers to investigate serious crimes and security threats. Currently, there are three different sets of laws focusing on electronic surveillance, with the Surveillance Devices Act (SD Act) being enacted 15 years ago, the ASIO Act and Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act being 40 years old, and the foundations of the surveillance framework dating back to decisions made in 1949.

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