CONCERNS by civil libertarians that proposed changes to Australia’s security laws will impinge on privacy have been downplayed by Wannon MP Dan Tehan who will scrutinise the wording of new legislation.
He chairs the federal parliamentary intelligence and security committee which will meet on Monday to review the first tranche of changes to national security laws in tackling terrorism risks.
Later in the year, the committee is likely to be given access to controversial proposed changes for collection and storage of telephone and internet traffic.
“Certainly privacy consideration has to be taken into account, but what is proposed will give no new powers to our intelligence agencies,” he said.
“The changes are updating legislation to be more relevant.”
Australian Council of Civil Liberties president Terry O’Gorman said the terrorism threat was being overstated and greater data collection would raise the risk of privacy violation.
“Our concern is that this is a crisis that’s being confected that really isn’t a crisis,” he said.
However, Mr Tehan said the changes were merely designed to make 1979 legislation more relevant to the hi-tech technology age.
He said the overriding issue was increasing concerns about Australians returning home after being involved in jihadist campaigns in the Middle East and carrying out terrorist activities on Australian soil.
“We have to ensure we are doing all we can to counter this,” he told The Standard.
“Australia is facing its most significant threat in the past 30 years with jihadists returning trained in terrorists activities. There are 50 or 60 Australians fighting with radical groups in Iraq and Syria and about 100 others on the margins in support roles including recruiting, logistics and training.
“In Afghanistan, there were 30 Australians involved in these type of activities, 20 of whom returned home and were suspected of being involved in terrorist-related activities — eight of these were convicted.”
He said proposed legislative changes would update laws introduced more than 30 years ago and streamline accessing of computers, safeguard ASIO offices, improve co-operation between ASIO and ASIS and adjust ASIO employment conditions.
The other proposed legislation would require telcos and internet providers to keep call, text, internet browsing and email data reportedly for two years rather than the current law where there is no compulsion on providers to retain data.