Legislation giving security companies full access to company employees' emails claimed as defense for Australian national security

There exists a fine line between privacy and security, with nations pointing the spotlight on the looming threat of terrorism. Whether cyber or physical, governments are taking privacy laws into their own hands, changing the rules of the game to how they see fit. The latest attempt is by the Australian government with legislation giving companies full power to scan employee emails and instant messages without their consent.

Opponents of the proposed legislation cry out, claiming it to be an unprecedented and unjustifiable intrusion on civil liberties, reports The Sydney Morning Herald. Attorney-General Robert McClelland claims this is a reasonable trade-off, claiming growing concerns over national security.

The government is primarily focusing on cyber attacks at the moment, given the economic catastrophe that would ensue if a cyber attack were to happen on the nation’s critical infrastructure. Speaking to the Herald, McClelland claimed that an attack on the nation’s economic infrastructure "would reap far greater economic damage than would be the case of a physical [terrorist] attack".

The proposed 1-year legislation would only allow security agencies access to Australian company employee emails without consent. This act is only the first step in the government’s plan to tighten cyber security. Future legislation will be more oriented towards companies to keep their networks safe.

"At least 90 per cent of networks exist outside government but there's no powers for corporate network supervisors to intercept such communications unless they have specific authority from the employee," he told the Herald. "It's unquestionable that it's necessary from time to time for network supervisors to open emails addressed to people to identify viruses and the like …There needs to be protocols and guidelines developed so companies can protect their own networks.”

McClelland insists these measures are necessary, citing a cyber attack on the Estonian Government website resulting in a crash of its entire network last year.

Electronic Frontiers Australia Chairman, Dale Clapperton, is one of the opponents of the legislation, describing it as a tool allowing “fishing expeditions into employees' emails and computer use rather than being used to protect critical infrastructure," as well as allowing “corporate eavesdropping and witch-hunts.” He claims that employers can use the private information against employees.

There is no word on the legislation’s passing, but by the looks of it, it could be in effect within the next couple of months.

"It seems as though my state-funded math degree has failed me. Let the lashings commence." -- DailyTech Editor-in-Chief Kristopher Kubicki

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