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
"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.