My Land

By Khaled ElomarI reflect on my childhood in a war-torn country (Lebanon). The…

Oh the irony

One of the production team behind The Political Sword regularly attends a trivia night…

Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions

“Of course there’s one Spain. If there was another, we’d all be…

A Climate of Opinion

By John HalyThe battle for climate change mitigation is euphemistically referred to…

Border Protection Hypocrisy

Come by boat and you will be denied entry to Australia for…

Morrison's Bluff

Back in September 2014 a young man died in a Brisbane hospital…

Our politics is not reality TV?

"Politics is not a reality television show," scowls ScoMo, in a cameo…

The people have spoken

By Stephen FitzgeraldThe rich get richer and the poor get poorer! With…

«
»
Facebook

The Security Derangement Complex: Technology Companies and Australia’s Anti-Encryption Law

Australia is being seen as a test case. How does a liberal democracy affirm the destruction of private, encrypted communications? In 2015, China demonstrated what could be done to technology companies, equipping other states with an inspiration: encryption keys, when required, could be surrendered to the authorities.

It is worth remembering the feeble justification then, as now. As Li Shouwei, deputy head of the Chinese parliament’s criminal law division explained to the press at the time, “This rule accords with the actual work need of fighting terrorism and is basically the same as what other major countries in the world do”. Birds of a feather, indeed.

An Weixing, head of the Public Security Ministry’s Counter-Terrorism division, furnishes us with the striking example of a generic state official who sees malefactors coming out of the woodwork of the nation. “Terrorism,” he sombrely stated, reflecting on Islamic separatists from East Turkestan, “is the public enemy of mankind, and the Chinese government will oppose all forms of terrorism.” Given that such elastic definitions are in the eye of the paranoid beholder, the scope for indefinite spread is ever present.

The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, must be consulting the same oracles as those earning their keep in the PRC. The first rule of modern governance: frighten the public in order to protect them. Look behind deceptive facades to find the devil lurking in his trench coat. Morrison’s rationale is childishly simple: the security derangement complex must, at all times, win over. The world is a dark place, a jungle rife with, as Morrison insists upon with an advertiser’s amorality, paedophile rings, terrorist cells, and naysayers.

One of his solutions? The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, otherwise known by its more accurate title of the Anti-Encryption Bill. This poorly conceived and insufferably vague Bill, soon to escape its chrysalis to become law, shows the government playbook in action: tamper with society’s sanity; draft a ponderous bit of text; and treat, importantly, the voter as a creature mushrooming in self-loathing insecurity in the dark.

The Bill, in dreary but dangerous terms, establishes “voluntary and mandatory industry assistance to law enforcement and intelligence agencies in relation to encryption technologies via the issuing of technical assistance requests, technical assistance notices and technical capability notices”. Technology companies are to become the bullied handmaidens, or “assistants”, of the Australian police state.

The Pentecostal Prime Minister has been able to count on supporters who see privacy as dispensable and security needs as unimpeachable. Those who get giddy from security derangement syndrome don the academic gown of scorn, lecturing privacy advocates as ignorant idealists in a terrible world. “I know it is a sensitive issue,” claims Rodger Shananan of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, “but the people arguing privacy just don’t have a handle on how widespread it’s used by the bad people.” The problem with such ill-considered dross is that such technology is also used by “good” or “indifferent” people.

Precisely in being universal, inserting such anti-encryption backdoors insists on a mutual presumption of guilt, that no one can, or should be trusted. It is in such environments that well versed cyber criminals thrive, sniffing out vulnerabilities and exploiting them. Computing security academic Ahmed Ibrahim states the point unreservedly. “If we leave an intentional backdoor they will find it. Once it is discovered it is usually not easy to fix.”

The extent of such government invasiveness was such as to trouble certain traditional conservative voices. Alan Jones, who rules from the shock jock roost of radio station 2GB, asked Morrison about whether this obsession with back door access to communications might be going too far. Quoting Angelo M. Codevilla of Boston University, a veteran critic of government incursions into private, encrypted communications, Jones suggested that the anti-encryption bill “allows police and intelligence agencies access to everyone’s messages, demanding that we believe that any amongst us is as likely or not to be a terrorist.” Morrison, unmoved, mounted the high horse of necessity. Like Shanahan, he was only interested in the “bad” people.

To that end, public consultation has been kept to a minimum. In the words of human rights lawyer, Lizzie O’Shea, it was “a terrible truncation of the process”, one evidently designed to make Australia a shining light for others within the Five Eyes Alliance to follow. “Once you’ve built the tools, it becomes very hard to argue that you can’t hand them over to the US government, the UK – it becomes something they can all use.”

There had been some hope that the opposition parties would stymy the process and postpone consideration of the bill till next year. It could thereby be tied up, bound and sunk by various amendments. But in the last, sagging sessions of Australia’s parliament, a compliant opposition party was keen to remain in the elector’s good books ahead of Christmas. Bill Shorten’s Labor Party took of the root of unreason, calculating that saying yes to the contents of the bill might also secure the transfer of desperate and mentally ailing refugees on Nauru and Manus Island to the Australian mainland.

Instead, in what became a farcical bungle of miscalculating indulgence, the government got what it wanted. The medical transfer bill on Nauru and Manus Island failed to pass in the lower house after a filibuster in the Senate by the Coalition and Senators Cory Bernardi and Pauline Hanson. The Anti-Encryption Bill, having made is way to the lower house, did.

Shorten’s deputy, Tanya Plibersek, was keen to lay the ground for Thursday’s capitulation to the government earlier in the week. A range of “protections” had been inserted into the legislation at the behest of the Labor Party. (Such brimming pride!) The Attorney-General Christian Porter was praised – unbelievably – for having accepted their sagacious suggestions. The point was elementary: Labor, not wanting to be seen as weak on law enforcement, had to be seen as accommodating.

Porter found himself crowing. “This ensures that our national security and law enforcement agencies have the modern tools they need, the appropriate authority and oversight, to access the encrypted conversations of those who seek to do us harm.”

International authorities versed in the area are looking at the Australian example with jaw dropping concern. EU officials will find the measure repugnant on various levels, given the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws in place. Australian technology companies are set to be designated appropriate pariahs, as are other technology companies willing to conduct transactions in Australia.  All consumers are being treated as potential criminals, an attitude that does not sit well with entities attempting to make a buck or two.

SwiftOnSecurity, an often canonical source on cyber security matters, is baffled. “Over in Australia they’re shooting themselves in the face with a shockingly technical nonsensical encryption backdoor law.” Not only does the law fail to serve any useful protections; it “poison-pills their entire domestic tech industry, breaks imports.”

Li’s point, again something which the Australian government insists upon, was that the Chinese law did not constitute a “backdoor” through encryption protections. Every state official merely wanted to get those “bad people” while sparing the “good”. The Tor Project is far more enlightening: “There are no safe backdoors.” An open declaration on the abolition of privacy in Australia has been made; a wonderfully noxious Christmas present for the Australian electorate.

Image from junkee.com


27 comments

  1. AJ O'Grady

    What is the difference between the new L/NP’s encryption laws and the fear of what Huawei may or may not do?

  2. Adrianne Haddow

    I am heartily sick of these invasive laws from a largely donor influenced and morally bereft government. The major issue is the trashing of the security of our legitimate online transactions. Our whole financial system is underpinned by the use of internet transfers of funds.
    Not to mention the security of our identities in this connected world.

    This government has an abysmal track record with anything related to IT, and their several attempts to have us all listed and placed in appropriate boxes, via the census and the health record fiascos, and their vapid response to the hacking of the Bureau of Meteorology, should have us all very concerned regarding their ability to manage anything to do with cyber security.

    I am also totally sick of Labor’s continuing capitulation to the Coalition’s draconian agenda, and the apologists who assure us ‘Labor has it covered, they’ll fix it when they’re in government’. Yeah right.

    We used to pride ourselves on our imagined freedom, but are content to let it slip away at the behest of people who can’t do their own jobs with any perceivable skill or foresight into the consequences in the future.

  3. Andreas

    After a 12 months absence I watched 730 last night, was I stunned by the wooden performance of the opposition leader. No backbone, no fight for the right principles, just a craven fold.
    I often have wondered whether this man is not a plant by the “powers that have always been”.
    Sad times ahead for “Australia fair”.

  4. David Bruce

    What will it take for Australians to recognize Threat Level 5 and cancel the barbie on the weekend?

  5. Adrianne Haddow

    Andreas, I made a similar comment on this site, once upon a time, when there was a worrying lack of opposition from the Opposition, and was howled down by a few people as a nutty conspiracy theorist.

    But the meta data retention legislation and now the legislated enforced decryption of our online communications and financial interactions, and Labor’s capitulation to this legislation has me worried for the future of idea exchange and joining together for common causes, and beliefs that are not those of the status quo.

  6. New England Cocky

    I disagree Andreas; I watched the YouTube speech by Shorten against Morriscum and ranked it as equal to the Gillard Misogyny Speech against RAbbott.

    The Shorten “small target” strategy has been largely successful in retrospect, even though I disagreed heartily at the time. The Liarbrals have demonstrated their complete contempt for the Australian voters, been properly seen as self-serving egomaniacs protecting vested interests that are the financial patrons to the unelected political hacks who control pre-selection in the party, especially in NSW.

    It’s time.

  7. paul walter

    Such a dismal ending to such a promising day.

    What the fuck was Shorten thinking, if he was thinking at all?

  8. Andreas

    Re Adrienne: I share your views, however historical precedent tells me that Social Democratic parties can not be trusted, the exception being the ALP with Whitlam. What the SPD (Social Deomocratic party) did in Germany in 1919 was to help Hitler’s fascists into office and I can see the same tendencies here (it’s called wedge politics)

    Re NEC: I quite agree that the time has come to get rid of this rabble, however this present ALP “shadow government” has lost my long-held confidence, with a few exceptions (Wong, Cameron)

  9. terence mills

    Paul Waiter

    Initially I too was disturbed that Shorten didn’t stand his ground on the encryption legislation until I realized that this was carefully crafted wedge designed by Morrison , hoping to trap the Labor party and then scream from the rooftops that Labor are weak on national security.

    When you have Morrison screeching that Bill Shorten is “a clear and present threat to Australia’s safety” and the ever helpful Christopher Pyne accusing Labor in a tweet of “helping “terrorists and paedophiles” the wedge is in.

    I think anybody following this acknowledges that this encryption legislation is not good law, it has been hurried and in its present form further amendment and scrutiny is essential. But in the face of the coalition attack on Labor as being weak on national security, I believe Shorten took the only sensible option available to him.

    The coalition are not really worried about national security, it was all about wedging Labor and we will see a lot more of this as the election approaches.

  10. Andreas

    terence,

    don’t you think we have had a gut full of wedge tactics, devised by that “elder statesman”, John Howard?

  11. totaram

    I would like to see a good analysis of the so called “legislation”. I suspect it is as useless as the fools who wrote it, if only one is slightly tech-savvy, it can be circumvented easily. So it is all grandstanding and politicking and playing wedge politics etc. Time will soon tell. Besides it hasn’t become law as yet has it? Ha, Ha

  12. Matters Not

    Currently, the wedge lies at the irreducible core of Australian political life. It’s the ‘wedge’ (and how to avoid same) that determines both tactical and strategic considerations. Accordingly, the coming election debate should be about – who can develop the best fear campaign (crucial for any wedge) and who is most adept in avoiding same.

    As for policies, principles and all that – why bother with a sideshow?

    By the way – don’t criticise the politicians because it’s the voters who give them life and sustenance. We have recognised the enemy – it’s us!

  13. Miriam English

    Leaving backdoors in communication software, supposedly for finding terrorists is a truly terrible idea. (Terrorists, incidentally, kill less people than the number of people who die falling off furniture.) It will not work for the intended purpose — any terrorist dangerous enough to worry about is going to use other means of communication. Giving this “government” the power to spy on everybody is insane, but much, much worse than that, it potentially makes available to criminals all our financial transactions.

    Such an alluring honeypot: a backdoor into all our communications! You can absolutely guarantee all the world’s top computer criminals will gleefully accept the challenge of finding it. And they will find it. That is absolutely certain.

    We are so screwed… because our accidental Prime Minister is a moron, and Bill Shorten didn’t want to be called names. Oh poor Bill, boo hoo! What about sticking up for Australians? What a pair of useless idiots!!!!!!!

  14. jcjones99@optusnet.com.au

    @ New England Cocky

    There is no way in the world that you’re going to be able to spin Shorten’s cave in as anything other than a spectacular fail.

    Even the Age, which is problably the most Labor firiendly major media outlet in Australia, noted:

    “Unhappy Labor MPs are insisting on major changes to the encryption regime that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten backed in a last-minute deal with the Morrison government on Thursday. The MPs fear Prime Minister Scott Morrison will use the summer break to bed down the laws and will renege on undertakings to fix flaws, arguing there is no demonstrable need to do so.

    One senior figure said the backdown made Labor look weak and confused for supporting legislation it had conceded was flawed. Dissatisfaction in the party was “substantial” and “pretty widespread”,

    …Labor’s decision to back the encryption-busting bill – one of at least a dozen national security laws enacted by the Coalition government – has also angered lawyers, technology experts and the party faithful.

    During caucus discussions prior to Thursday night’s backdown, some MPs told colleagues they knew of party members who had already quit in disgust at Labor’s position.

    Labor MP and regional communications spokesman Stephen Jones said he and a number of colleagues were “very concerned that we fix the problems in the laws as soon as Parliament returns”.

    {how ya gonna unring the bell? -as if}

    Other Labor MPs including Anthony Albanese, Peter Khalil, Pat Conroy and Terri Butler share concerns about the encryption laws. Leaving Parliament on Thursday, before the backdown, Mr Albanese dismissed the bill as “nonsense legislation”.

    https://www.theage.com.au/politics/federal/bill-shorten-under-internal-pressure-to-force-major-changes-to-rushed-encryption-laws-20181207-p50kvp.html

  15. Jexpat

    There is no way in the world that anyone’s going to be able to spin Shorten’s cave in as anything other than a spectacular fail.

    Even the Age, which is problably the most Labor firiendly major media outlet in Australia, noted:

    “Unhappy Labor MPs are insisting on major changes to the encryption regime that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten backed in a last-minute deal with the Morrison government on Thursday. The MPs fear Prime Minister Scott Morrison will use the summer break to bed down the laws and will renege on undertakings to fix flaws, arguing there is no demonstrable need to do so.

    One senior figure said the backdown made Labor look weak and confused for supporting legislation it had conceded was flawed. Dissatisfaction in the party was “substantial” and “pretty widespread”,

    …Labor’s decision to back the encryption-busting bill – one of at least a dozen national security laws enacted by the Coalition government – has also angered lawyers, technology experts and the party faithful.

    During caucus discussions prior to Thursday night’s backdown, some MPs told colleagues they knew of party members who had already quit in disgust at Labor’s position.

    Labor MP and regional communications spokesman Stephen Jones said he and a number of colleagues were “very concerned that we fix the problems in the laws as soon as Parliament returns”.

    {how ya gonna unring the bell? -as if}

    Other Labor MPs including Anthony Albanese, Peter Khalil, Pat Conroy and Terri Butler share concerns about the encryption laws. Leaving Parliament on Thursday, before the backdown, Mr Albanese dismissed the bill as “nonsense legislation”.

    https://www.theage.com.au/politics/federal/bill-shorten-under-internal-pressure-to-force-major-changes-to-rushed-encryption-laws-20181207-p50kvp.html

  16. Paul Davis

    Miriam English “Terrorists, incidentally, kill less people than the number of people who die falling off furniture.” LOL nailed it.

    It is absolutely unbelieveable how cracked in the head these politicians are. Why why why do they believe that legislation as stupid as this contributes to the good of the nation? Don’t they listen to experts, take advice from sane sensible educated clever people?

    Australia has become Dogpatch and Jubilation T Cornpone is running the place.

  17. king1394

    So who here actually uses encryption software and why?

  18. Adrianne Haddow

    King, do you do online banking? Do you pay bills online? Do you shop on the Internet? Do you lodge taxes online?

    We all use encryption software provided by businesses to make those online transactions safe.

  19. stove_pipe

    King1394
    I use encryption everyday. It’s called telegram, a messaging app. I also do online banking, email, crypto transactions, etc.
    We all use it without thinking when we visit websites starting with httpS.
    We use it when we punch in our eftpos pin or use pay wave.
    We use it when we unlock our phones or computers.

    The problem is people think it’s only encryption. It’s not. It’s anything SECURED using encryption.

    I would love to hear from the people arguing it’s a trivial thing to get around about how that is the case.

  20. terence mills

    An interesting point made by one commentator was that we should take great care how much power we give to organisations such as ASIS and respective ministers without the need for judicial oversight and court warrants.

    We have seen how a ministerial directive to bug the Timor Leste government offices was carried out by ASIS and when a whistleblower reported the criminality of the acts they had been ordered to carry out, both the ASIS officer and his lawyer were charged and are before the courts with the initiating minister appearing to have escaped scrutiny.

    When Labor agreed to wave through these laws it was on the understanding and with the undertaking from Finance Minister Mathias Cormann to consider further changes next year when the government appointed (and dominated) Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security gets the opportunity to report and make recommendations to improve these laws ; Attorney-General Christian Porter also announced the Government had agreed to consider Labor’s amendments in the new year.

    Labor are fully aware that this legislation is full of holes, as Jexpat noted above many Labor MPs fear Prime Minister Scott Morrison will use the summer break to bed down the laws and will renege on undertakings to fix flaws, arguing there is no demonstrable need to do so.

    Should the government fail to honour these undertakings in the very brief parliamentary sitting periods before the election, we should let them know how we feel at the ballot box.

  21. terence mills

    I should add when it comes to undertakings by Cormann, a pinch of salt may be necessary : I have been referred to his comments shortly before the axing of Turnbull :

    I SUPPORT MALCOLM TURNBULL AS PRIME MINISTER. I WAS VERY GRATEFUL WHEN MALCOLM INVITED ME TO SERVE IN HIS CABINET IN SEPTEMBER 2015. I HAVE SERVED MALCOLM LOYALLY EVER SINCE AND I WILL CONTINUE TO SERVE HIM LOYALLY INTO THE FUTURE.”

    (Mathias Cormann Wednesday 22 August 2018)

  22. totaram

    Stove_pipe: Any tech savvy terrorist would be able to send encrypted messages to colleagues using open source software like the old PGP. First encrypt your message using PGP on a stand-alone computer. Transfer the encrypted message to your regular computer using USB stick. Attach the encrypted message to your email and send off to fellow terrorist. Fellow terrorist receives email removes the attachment and decodes using stand-alone machine.

    Please explain how this legislation will enable ASIO to decrypt and read the message, even if they capture the two stand alone computers.

  23. Patrick C

    Looks like the legislation is about 2% to do with terrorists and 98% to do with the ‘govt du jour’ having the ability to monitor dissident voices, political manipulation in other words. As the technology falls further from our politicians ‘Tree of Good Intentions’ it’s likely to become a plaything for any govt in the world or any fans of espionage seeking commercial, research, financial etc advantage over local businesses. Congrats to Libs and Labor, keeping it naive since year X.

  24. paul walter

    Patrick, you get it.

    And so does the rest of the thinking half of the country,

  25. New England Cocky

    @jcjones99: I agree with your sentiments, but consider the alternative; the Murdoch mastheads and media railing against Shorten for the next six months as cover for the lack of any policies to improve the best interests of Australian voters. Distraction before any demonstration of leadership.

    I agree that Morriscum will likely renege on any undertaking, it is in his DNA to be double dealing and deceptive.

    Yes, IMHO the ALP made a bad decision picking Shorten over Albanese, but that is now history and we have an election too long delayed by far right Liarbral extremists clinging to political power for personal pecuniary interest.

    It’s time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Return to home page
Scroll Up
%d bloggers like this: