Australian Senate Committee Will Scrutinise Internet and Phone Surveillance by Security Agencies

A Senate committee will scrutinise internet and phone surveillance by Australia’s security agencies after Labor backed an inquiry proposed by the Greens.

Greens senator Scott Ludlam said a review of the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act had “never been more urgent” given recent revelations by Edward Snowden about the extent of surveillance and the fact that Australia’s act was written in the “pre-computer age”.

The terms of reference say the inquiry should consider the detailed report from the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, tabled in June, which recommended a substantial rewrite of the act. It recommended inserting a clause specifically stating the dual objectives of “protecting the privacy of communications” and “enabling interception and access to communications in order to investigate serious crime and threats to national security”.

It also recommended the Attorney General’s Department re-examine “proportionality tests” in its processes to approve communications interception, including the “privacy impacts of proposed investigative activity” and whether it serves the “public interest”.

The former government ran out of time to respond to the report and the new attorney general is yet to announce any decisions about the issues it raises.

The terms of reference also require the Senate committee to consider a 2009 Australian Law Reform Commission report titled For Your Information which said the TIA act needed to be reconsidered, and raised the possibility of a “public interest monitor” overseeing interceptions conducted under the act.

The Senate legal and constitutional affairs references committee is chaired by Greens senator Penny Wright. Its deputy chair is the Liberal senator Zed Seselja.

Ludlam said the Senate’s acceptance of an inquiry broke the “complicity of silence about surveillance in Australia” and would allow “Australian experts, agencies and individuals to participate in a conversation of what surveillance is necessary and proportionate”.

The inquiry was opposed by the government.


Originally published on

Photo by JonJon2k8.


PN Member Senator Scott Ludlam is spokesperson for Communications, Housing, Heritage, Nuclear Issues, Infrastructure and Sustainable Cities.

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