Tuesday, 21 August 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security, Senator Fifield. Will the minister update the Senate on actions the government is taking to give our law enforcement and national security agencies the power they need to disrupt and prosecute serious organised criminals and terrorists in the online environment?
I thank Senator Molan for his question, and I acknowledge his past service in keeping Australia safe and secure and his ongoing efforts in that regard. As colleagues would know, we have had the telecommunications intercept powers in this country for almost 40 years. When they were first legislated, we had just one telco that had recently changed its name from the PMG to Telecom. There were no mobile phones in Australia, and the World Wide Web was still a decade from being invented. A lot has changed. The number of telcos, connected devices and even forms of communication have grown exponentially. Our laws haven't kept pace with technological innovation. In fact, if we don't act, we will be giving serious criminals a place to hide, whether they be drug dealers, terrorists, paedophiles or others who seek to cause harm.
It is concerning when our agencies advise that, in the last 12 months alone, we've had 200 operations investigating very serious offences, where the penalties are seven years or more, where the current legislative framework has thwarted or inhibited their ability to collect the evidence we need to prosecute and disrupt serious criminal and national security threats. The legislation that the Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security released for public consultation last week is designed to address these issues. Public consultation is important. We're willing to take the time to listen to make sure that we get this right. This government does have a proven track record of balancing individual freedoms alongside the safety and security of Australians, and this is the next step in that regard.
The government acknowledges that encryption is a vital piece of security for every user of the internet. It protects all of us as we go about our lives online, securing banking, shopping, communications and other services. That's why the proposed measures expressly prevent the weakening of encryption or the introduction of back doors. The government is absolutely committed to maintaining the integrity of Australia's personal information, devices and communications.
However, these technologies are also increasingly being used, as I said, by terrorists, foreign agents and serious criminals to conceal their illegal activities. It's imperative that our law enforcement and security agencies can access information to investigate serious crimes and combat threats to Australia's national security. This government will ensure that those agencies have the powers that they need to do their job, because the safety and security of all Australians is our shared collective first priority.
Put simply, we can't give criminals a place to hide. If we don't act, they will continue to hide on those applications and platforms that they believe protect their activities. That's why the legislation that the government has released for public consultation provides a contemporary framework that will allow law enforcement and national security agencies to work in the increasingly complex digital environment.
The premise of the legislation is not new. An obligation to assist law enforcement and national security investigations currently applies to the domestic communications companies in Australia, and any request for an individual's data will remain subject to warrant processes.
As Senator Molan knows well, we must act, and we must act very shortly. I call on all colleagues in this place to join with the government in supporting these important reforms.