This morning a press release was issued by Angus Taylor, the Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security in Australia regarding government access to information. The release (pictured below) details a drafted piece of legislation that would allow the government to acquire data from international telecommunications companies in matters of a criminal nature.
The argument for the legislation is simple; “technologies including encryption are increasingly being used by paedophiles, terrorists and organised criminals to conceal their illicit activities”1 – and security agencies want the ability to decrypt or otherwise access these communications.
Cyber security is now, always has been and always will be a cat and mouse game. The aforementioned paedophiles, terrorists and criminals scamper around, constantly looking for new and innovative ways to evade capture and go about their illegal business. The government and security agencies are subsequently forced to go hunting to combat these newfound practices.
The proposed Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, is very extensive and covers an absurd amount of ground – but to properly simplify the legislation – the main changes concern allowing “access” to “interception agencies”. Or in plain English, allowing the cat the ability to run faster, jump higher and make catching the mouse that much easier.
In the amendment, “access” is effectively defined as;
And “interception agencies” are defined as;
Now there are two sides to every coin and the arguments against this legislation are equally as simple;
- “Encryption wasn’t built so terrorists could use it. I don’t think people appreciate just how much of a fundamental component encryption is.”2 – Tony Hunt, security expert.
- (Providing law enforcement back-door access will) “undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers.”3 – Apple.
- “Where does this all stop?”4 – John Abood, read 1984 by George Orwell once.
The first two counter-arguments both have very individual and valid grounds. Encryption wasn’t made to allow the ‘mice’ to hide, and in a way, once access to a system has been handed over to government, the system as a whole is weakened as there’s another access point. This is effectively the same as adding a second door to your house – it’s just another method for someone to break in through.
The legislation does address this concern in Division 7;
But the wording is rather ambiguous and we can only speculate that the exact definition of what a ‘systemic’ weakness/vulnerability is.
The biggest question raised by all of this and debatably the biggest concern is, where do we stop? At what point do we limit or otherwise put a complete stop to government access of information? Until this proposed legislation they had complete access to domestic telecom services for criminal matters should it be required. The legislation proposes they will have the same access to international telecom services operating within the country. What’s the next step? Active monitoring of all communications at all time? Decryption of all messages across all services? What if your laptop was keylogged? Your phone’s microphone constantly listening for potentially criminal activities?
You can see how slippery this slope is… I quoted myself earlier as someone that’s “read 1984 by George Orwell once” and the above concern is reminiscent of an Orwellian world where ‘Big Brother’ and the ‘Thought Police’ monitor each and every minute of our lives.
However despite fully understanding and heeding the warnings put forth by Orwell, Apple and others – I’ll argue seven days a week for my safety, the safety of my family, friends and fellow Australians. I personally don’t feel as though my communications being monitored is the be-all and end-all of privacy, and I don’t think anyone truly should. Unless you’re reading this piece through your private VPN on a virtual machine hosted on a USB in a public library with a balaclava on – guess what, you can already be traced. But surely there’s nothing wrong with that? The argument for this legislation includes the phrase “what do you have to hide?” and I genuinely pose that question to anyone currently arguing against. What are you doing now, planning to do in the future or otherwise giving a thought to, that an ASIO agent can’t see?
What does anyone have to gain from monitoring my communications? Congratulations, you now know that I didn’t know what the word “bereavement” meant, and that I love any movie Denzel Washington has ever been in…
But that world, Orwell’s world, is so far extrapolated from this proposed legislation. To anyone that truly understands what these amendments mean, I know you’ll support them.
1. Public consultation commences on new Assistance and Access Bill, Angus Taylor MP
4. A younger, more naive version of myself.