Welcome to the StartupAUS Newsletter

This week we're outlining our response to the encryption laws passed at the end of last year (officially called the Access and Assistance Act). We've written a submission in collaboration with lots of the leaders of the tech sector and we're offering you an opportunity to add your voice to the chorus.

Join Mike Cannon-BrookesScott FarquharNiki Scevak, Melanie Perkins, Cliff Obrecht, Richard White, Paul Bassat, Luke Anear, Didier Elzinga, Katherine McConnell, Patrick Llewellyn, Matt Barrie, Daniel Petre, Bede Moore and Sarah Moran in supporting the sector's submission.

To add your name, sign up here!

Fixing the most important issues first

It should come as no surprise to anyone within the startup or technology communities that we find the AA Act to be bitterly disappointing. Coming off the back of increasing concern about the R&D Tax Incentive, the Act, passed without amendment from both sides of politics, further indicates a political shift away from technology in Canberra. Of particular frustration is that this comes just as the startup sector is building considerable momentum and Australian technology businesses are enjoying real growth, starting to become genuine global players. 

At a time when we should be focused on supporting and promoting Australian technology, this legislation does just the opposite.

While it is tempting to simply reject the Act outright, a repeal of the Act is well outside the scope of the Parliamentary Joint Committee. Instead, in our submission we've elected to highlight what we've identified as four of the most egregious components of the legislation and ask that they be corrected as quickly as possible.

What we need to change

Here's an overview of the elements we think need urgent change. For more detail on any of the below, feel free to look at our full submission here.

Our submission focuses on four key areas:

1) Remove the possibility for individuals employees to be targeted

Founders need to be informed of what actions the government are taking in their businesses, and employees need to be able to inform their management of any government requirements of them, as well as seek legal advice provided by the company. In its current form, the legislation still allows TCNs to target individuals, and while Home Affairs have insisted this is not their intention that the government target individual employees, the letter of the law still allows this practice and must therefore be amended.

2) Reduce the breadth of organisations that may be targeted

Despite the Act clearly targeting communications between criminals, the definition of a communications provider is so broad that it essentially encompasses any digital product on the internet. Computer games, online shopping, business tools, databases, health and wellbeing products and any application on your phone is within the scope of the law. This level of overreach needs to be curtailed.

3) Increase oversight and provide limits on use

Australia is hampered here by our lack of a Bill of Rights or equivalent legislation. We have no individual right to privacy and/or unreasonable search and seizure with which we can appeal. Additionally, items in the Act designed to limit its power like 'systematic vulnerability' and 'reasonable' remain undefined. It is critical therefore that the Act include a rigorous, objective, merits-based review to ensure the powers bestowed under the Act are being used appropriately. 

4) Reduce the broad basis for executing the powers of the Act

While the political narrative was that the Act was important for fighting paedophile rings and terrorists, the legislation allows for these powers to be used in the investigation of any crime with a maximum jail sentence of three years - essentially any non-trivial crime. In fact, the maximum penalty for unauthorised disclosure of information pertaining to this Act is five years jail time, qualifying it as a serious offence under the legislation. Far from being a critical tool in our most important moments, these powers will instead become part of the daily toolkit of law enforcement.

To sign your own name as a supporter of the submission, head to our Google form. We'll be publishing a list of supporters publicly.

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