Changes to the Telecommunications Act 1997 to enable telcos to offer information and assistance to prevent serious threats, has passed through the Senate with the Bill’s legislation expected to be imminent.
The changes, which were first raised by the federal government in November 2022, remove the need for threats to be “imminent” in addition to “serious”, which the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts claims is “often impossible to prove in many cases”.
As with any Bill that passes both the Lower House and the Senate, the Bill now must be given Royal Assent by the Governor-General before it is enacted. According to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, this process usually takes seven to 10 working days after it has passed Parliament.
The Department said that, once written into law, this will speed up responses from telcos providing triangulation services to police.
“These are life-saving changes to the Telecommunications Act, which is why the government acted swiftly to remove these barriers just five months after the [NSW Deputy State Coroner] urged us to take action,” said Minister for Communication Michelle Rowland.
“We know how time-critical cases of missing persons are and the passing of this Bill will bolster the powers of law enforcement and emergency services as they work to return missing loved ones to their families and friends.”
The State Coroner met with Rowland in October about the then-current red tape surrounding the Telecommunications Act following two high profile cases in NSW, which involved law enforcement having requests for triangulation denied as both instances did not have an “imminent threat to the life or health” of individuals in question.
The Department claimed that the Bill includes “stronger privacy protections, consent-based safeguards, and oversight measures to ensure that only necessary and potentially life-saving disclosures are made”.
“In consultation with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, the Bill also introduces changes to the Act to improve transparency and reporting through more detailed record-keeping of authorised disclosures,” it said.
Rowland added that the claim that the amendments "strike an appropriate balance between maintaining individual privacy and protecting public safety and I am confident they will make a real difference”.