StartupAUS and the Australian tech community call for AA bill to be curtailed

11 February, 2019

Australia, 12th February 2018: The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018 must be limited to avoid crippling Australia’s technology sector, according to a submission by StartupAUS, Australia’s peak national advocacy group for startups. The submission has received surging industry support from the likes of tech giants Atlassian, Canva and SafetyCulture, and VCs Blackbird Ventures and Airtree.

StartupAUS made the four-page submission to the Federal Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) today.

StartupAUS CEO Alex McCauley warned about the impact of the AA bill on Australian startups when it passed in the Senate on 6 December, 2018, saying it put them “under a regulatory burden that is unique to them, and limits the level of security that Australian startups can develop”.

The submission outlines the urgent changes that are required to divest the government of “globally-unprecedented power to involve itself in the operations of technology companies.”

“Startups are critical to Australia’s economy. At a time when we should be developing and broadening our vision and support for them, the bill will jeopardise their standing with investors both here and abroad,” it states.

The StartupAUS submission makes four key recommendations for the protection of both individuals and the tech industry:

1. Remove the possibility for TCNs to be issued to individual employees, to ensure that individuals are not targeted where a company is providing the service. While TCNs may only be issued to Designated Communications Providers, the bill’s Explanatory Memorandum states this can extend to individuals.

2. Reduce the breadth of organisations that may be regarded as a Designated Communications Provider. By broadly defining a Designated Communications Provider as any provider of electronic services with one or more end-users in Australia, this includes any technology provider that offers technology designed to connect to the internet, whether or not the service is designed to support communications as a market segment. The bill should only be applied to communications-based companies.

3. Increase oversight and provide limits on use. A bill of this scope must have checks and balances. The submission states:“The government must include an objective, merits-based review to ensure consistency regarding the exercise of powers under the Act.”

4. Reduce the broad basis for executing the powers of the Act. The bill should target high-stakes criminals but instead will weaken the security of law-abiding Australians using software. StartupAUS calls for a clearer definition of a serious offence, as currently defined in 317B of the bill: “The definition of ‘serious crime’ should be restricted only to those crimes which are the stated target of the Act, that pose a genuine and serious threat to Australia and its citizens.” On an equally important level, StartupAUS warns about applying the laws to international organisations providing digital services or operating R&D in Australia, stating: “Further, the ability to exercise powers in furtherance of other countries’ criminal laws should be withdrawn.”

Mr McCauley, along with the submission’s signatories, reinforced that the bill is disappointing and should ideally be repealed. “We agree with Scott Farquhar, Co-founder & CEO of Atlassian, that the legislation is a ‘gut punch’ to Australia’s tech sector” said Mr McCauley.

“We need to ensure every effort is made so that international confidence in the Australian technology sector is not undermined by new legislation. We welcome a formal consultation to amend the Act so it is practical for our burgeoning tech industry, without cannibalising on our efforts to innovate” commented Cliff Obrecht, COO and Co-Founder, Canva.

Scott Farquhar reinforced the importance of the technology sector coming together. “At at time when we should be leaning into Australia’s tech potential, we’re anchoring it with legislation that hurts us.
We know we’re louder as one voice – that’s why we’ve rallied together as an industry – and we’re calling on the government to reduce the scope of the bill and limit the negative consequences on our industry.”

ENDS

StartupAUS PR Contact: Sophie Hanson | 0417927316 | Sophie@launchgroup.com.au

About StartupAUS: StartupAUS is a not-for-profit organisation formed in 2013 by fifty leaders in the national startup community. Our mission is to transform Australia through technology entrepreneurship. That means making Australia one of the best places in the world to build and grow a tech startup. Our efforts are focused on trying to get the big picture right for Australian startups – improving the regulatory environment, building a case for the right sort of Government support for a fast-growing sector, and increasing public awareness of the impact of tech startups across the country. We work with startups and investors to help governments around the country get the settings right to create successful startup ecosystems.For more information visit: www.startupaus.org.

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