Yesterday (9 August 2017) the Commonwealth Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, announced that the government had accepted all the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) made in the Committee's advisory report of 30 June 2017 on the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (Cth) (the Bill).
The Bill proposes to amend the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) (the Telecommunications Act) to strengthen the current framework for managing national security risks to Australia's telecommunications networks. The Bill is to target national security risks in the form of espionage, sabotage, and foreign interference which can arise in the global supply chain for telecommunications equipment, services, or the outsourcing of sensitive network management functions. The Bill recognises the importance of these security risks being managed to protect the availability and integrity of telecommunications networks and systems and the confidentiality of information stored and carried on those systems. The proposed legislation also formalises and enhances existing information sharing and relationships between government and telecommunications carriers and carriage service providers to ensure greater consistency, transparency and accountability for managing national security risks across all parts of the telecommunications sector.
The Bill was referred to the PJCIS by the Attorney-General who, when the Bill was introduced into the Senate on 9 November 2016, asked the PJCIS to inquire into the Bill.
For more detail on the Bill see our previous article: Review of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (CTH).
While advising that all PJCIS recommendations had been accepted, the Attorney-General emphasised that the Bill was the result of extensive consultation which recognised that national security was a shared responsibility:
New obligations will be imposed by the Bill on on carriers and carriage service providers regarding the security of their networks and requirement to advise government of any breaches:
The Attorney-General indicated that the PJCIS has recommended the Bill be passed and that the Bill would soon be debated in the Senate saying:
The PJCIS recommended that the administrative guidelines to the Bill be revised to provide comprehensive information, clarity and certainty to industry in a greater range of circumstances. This was accepted and the Attorney-General’s Department will review and revise administrative guidance.
The PJCIS also recommended that the Bill be amended to clarify that, in circumstances where a broadcaster is exempt from being treated as a carriage service provider under the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth), they are also not intended to be subject to the obligations set out in the Bill. This was accepted and the Government will amend the Bill.
Finally, the PJCIS recommended that the Attorney General’s Department work collaboratively with industry to ensure effective and regular information-sharing, in particular sharing threat information with industry, leveraging existing mechanisms where possible - this was also accepted.
The remaining recommendations are in the Attorney General’s.
The Bill has yet to be further debated in the Senate but it is likely to pass as the Bill is supported by both the Government and the opposition.
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