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Concerns raised as government demands universal wiretapping

Privacy an afterthought.

Sweeping reforms will make it easier than ever for law enforcement to intercept communications if amendments to the Telecommunications (Interceptions) Act are agreed upon by a Senate standing committee.

The federal government is pushing a bill to force all telecommunications providers to facilitate lawful data interception across fixed and mobile telephone systems, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), Instant Messaging (IM) and chat room discussions.

The standing committee is meeting today to discuss the proposed changes to Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Bill 2008 (TIA).

The amendments build on previous reforms by the then Howard government which required Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to implement wiretapping provisions in VoIP services.

Private organisations will be handed "quasi-police" powers under separate government plans announced on Monday.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said business owners will be handed powers to intercept employee e-mails without notice in a bid to prevent cyber-terrorism.

Consumer advocacy groups are outraged by the reforms and have questioned the motives of the government, labelling the move as a blatant invasion of privacy.

NSW Council of Civil Liberties president, Cameron Murphy, said the changes are unnecessary and will inadvertently subject hundreds of people to privacy violations.

"These laws will massively increase the number of interception points available for techniques such as wiretapping," Murphy said.

"Everything from online chatting, to Skype (VoIP) and mobile phone calls will be open to interception."

He believes the changes are being driven by law enforcement which is effectively offloading its work on the private industry.

The reforms also violate the privacy of other parties involved in a monitored communication channel, according to the Council, the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) and the Electronic Frontiers Association (EFA).

The organisations told Computerworld that NSW law, which allows businesses to intercept employee e-mails with consent, is a breach of the TIA and the Privacy Act. The problem arises from ambiguity in the law which does not stipulate rules for dealing with third party information, and what constitutes consent.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

More about: ACT, Attorney-General, Bill, EFA, Privacy Foundation, Skype
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