Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has labelled the government’s metadata laws “a crushing blow to free speech” and declared journalists “stuffed” under new proposals.
The metadata measures seek to force telecommunications companies to keep two years of customer metadata, which includes call records, for access by police and intelligence agencies.
The government said the laws were essential for tackling terrorism and organised crime, but Labor raised concerns journalists and whistleblowers would be caught up in the net.
On Tuesday, Attorney General George Brandis said he would amend the laws to give greater protection to journalists, forcing authorities to provide warrants when trying to access journalists’ data.
Speaking on Sky News, Mr Brandis dismissed the reforms as “entirely unnecessary”, but said the government had to deal with “red herrings”.
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Xenophon warned Australia was heading in the “opposite direction” as other countries, which were ramping up measures to protect whistleblowers and journalists’ sources.
“The warrant system being proposed will be completely ineffective because it means that the journalist or the media organisation will not have an opportunity to appear before the person issuing the warrant to argue their case in the public interest,” Mr Xenophon said.
“Unless you have an American-style system, our closest ally, where journalists and media organisations have the right to appear before the attorney-general and his office in order to argue the case for the public interest – then journalists, as a profession, will be stuffed when it comes to protecting their sources.”
Speaking alongside Mr Xenophon, University of New South Wales cyber security expert Clinton Fernandes said he was “very uncomfortable” with the new laws.
Mr Fernandes said the proposed metadata laws meant the government would be able to track who you talked to, who you meet and where you slept.
“Journalists will not be able to guarantee confidentiality,” he said.
“You’ll leave a digital trail when you communicate. The proposed laws will provide comprehensive digital pictures.”
A Labor spokesman said the opposition was waiting to see the amendment in writing before making a final decision.
It’s expected the Labor caucus will discuss it at Tuesday’s meeting in Canberra.
– with AAP