Attorney-General George Brandis has faced criticism over a lack of consultation on his metadata legislation.
Telecommunications and Internet industry groups have criticised what they describe as a lack of consultation from Attorney-General George Brandis on metadata legislation, as the bill’s future is set to be decided this week.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is set to report its recommendations on controversial metadata legislation by Friday, but key industry groups say they haven’t been listened to.
The Internet Society of Australia, a non-profit dedicated to the development of the Internet, presented twice to the PJCIS. It said it the bill was “flawed” and would not achieve the government’s stated aims.
The organisation’s CEO Laurie Patton, a former media and IT executive, told Technology Spectator that despite numerous offers to Senator Brandis, it had not received any contact from him or his department for advice on fixing the legislation.
Mr Patton said members of both sides of politics had expressed that evidence from the Internet Society was indicative of potential problems with the bill.
“Your submission impresses me greatly…and I will be encouraging people to speak to you as soon as possible,” Liberal MP Philip Ruddock said at the hearing.
Labor’s shadow communications minister Jason Clare said: “It would be extremely embarrassing for the government if legislation passed the Parliament and then evidence that was given to this committee before it was passed was subsequently revealed to be correct.”
Mr Patton said it was “very disappointing” Brandis had not consulted the organisation following the hearings.
“Our genuine attempts to assist the government to understand the technical implications of the bill have so far gone nowhere,” he said.
“As far back as August last year, when we first wrote to the Attorney, we have been seeking to have our advice considered.”
At the hearing, the Society pointed to a number of loopholes that would allow “the bad guys” to evade surveillance, including for example the fact OTT applications like Facebook and Whatsapp would be exempt from the legislation.
The Society also pointed to aspects of the bill that it said presented a risk to the privacy protection rights of Australians, and that it gave too much power to the Attorney-General.
It said for example that the ‘data set’ is not set out in the bill nor is the list of organisations able to access the data, therefore granting the Attorney-General the ability to expand the scope of the Bill after the legislation has been passed.
Mr Patton was asked by Mr Ruddock at the hearing if he had made a formal offer of assistance to the government, to which Mr Patton responded that he had emailed one of Senator Brandis’ personal staff the previous week to that effect but had not had any response so far.
The committee formally requested that the Internet Society provide a supplementary report expanding on its concerns. That report was provided on February 10 2015, along with a repeat of the Society’s offer to meet with the PJCIS, Senator Brandis or his department.
“The Internet Society is part of a global network of experts who have built and run the Internet from its inception. Who better to work with the government to ensure that this legislation is effective in fighting terrorism while minimising the potential for collateral damage to innocent people?” Mr Patton said.
Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton said delays in defining the data set had meant the costings process was being rushed. “Industry has felt pressured by the time frames around gathering costing information and trying to help government clarify the data set that has been asked for,” he said.
“We think it is imperative that the government make very clear what the financial impost on service providers, and therefore their customers, will be … before the legislation returns for debate in parliament.”
The news follows a report from ZDNet that Senator Brandis conducted six meetings over 10 months with rights holders to consult regarding the government’s new piracy legislation, but held absolutely no meetings with consumer groups or internet service providers.
The report, citing files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, said Senator Brandis met with Village Roadshow co-CEO Graham Burke, ARIA CEO Dan Rosen and director general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation Francis Gurry, but no consumer groups.
A spokesperson for Choice told ZDNet that the organisation had sought meetings with Brandis but had not been granted any.
“Choice has sought meetings with the Attorney-General but as yet he has been unavailable,” the spokesperson said.
“We hope to meet with the Attorney-General soon to discuss how best to protect Australian consumers from excessive or unwarranted fines as the government considers how to reduce piracy.”