The Australian Government has recently released draft legislation seeking to impose more responsibilities on the Australian telecommunications industry. Last month, the Attorney-General released an exposure draft of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 ("Bill") which, if made law, would impose on telecommunications carriers and carriage service providers a duty to do "their best" to prevent their networks and facilities from unauthorised interference and access.
What is intended to qualify as a carrier or carriages service provider's "best" is unclear and will no doubt be explored by industry representatives in the current exposure phase of the Bill. The obligation intends to ensure that confidentiality of communications carried on telecommunications networks is protected. Carriers and carriage service providers will be required to notify the Australian Government when there are changes to their systems that may impact their capacity to meet this obligation. The Bill also proposes that the Attorney-General's Department be granted the power to issue directions to a carrier or carriage service provider to cease their operations if, in the opinion of the Attorney-General, the supply of those services is prejudicial to Australian national security. The Explanatory Memorandum circulated with the Bill advises that such power should only be exercised to manage the most "extreme national security risks".
The introduction of the draft Bill forms part of a suite of recent legislative initiatives operating at the intersection between technology, telecommunications and national security, like the recently proposed metadata retention regime. If made law, the Bill will come with a financial cost. John Stanton (chief executive of the industry representative Communications Alliance) has for instance expressed reservation, commenting that"whether [the Bill] is a proportionate response is a question that the Parliament will need to consider in consultation with industry…" and that the Bill represents "…a higher level of intrusion into the commercial operations of the industry…" The Australian Government have recognised that the implementation of the Bill would increase the administrative requirements placed on the telecommunications industry, providing it with a 6 month grace period until the legislation would take effect assuming the Bill passes through Parliament.
The Australian Government is calling for submissions in response to the Bill to be provided by 31 July 2015, which is an opportunity for stakeholders to explore the increased regulatory burden that will be imposed on them should the Bill become law.