Tech

OPINION: We NEED the proposed Assistance and Access Bill.

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.

References:

1. Public consultation commences on new Assistance and Access Bill, Angus Taylor MP

2. https://www.itnews.com.au/news/why-you-should-care-about-the-govts-encryption-crackdown-468397

3. https://edition.cnn.com/2016/02/16/us/san-bernardino-shooter-phone-apple/

4. A younger, more naive version of myself.

 

Co Authors :

OPINION: We NEED the proposed Assistance and Access Bill.
3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Karl

    August 14, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    This will not guarantee the safety of your family, it might assist the authorities to catch the amateurs, so the smart criminals buy an android phone load on illegal software and are doing what they have always done.

    Police have always had ways of catching criminals, not easy ones but they could in a lot of cases do the leg work and get their man.

    I don’t think that many people consider that a phone is like your own personal diary / thoughts. It has all your secrets (good and bad). In court you can not be forced to incriminate yourself but the little box in your pocket can. There has never been a device like this in all of history.

    In China the government is rating their population for mistakes or crimes, j-walk and now you get your holiday cancelled, think about doing something illegal and you may be arrested for a crime you have not committed.

    The government always throughs up the argument of catching the paedophiles and terrorists, but what about the person who may have driven a bit fast on the way work, with GPS tracking you may get a speeding fine issued before you arrive at the office or home, or how about your texts being monitored while you are at the pub, too many mistakes typing and it could be presumed you are over the limit and the police pick you up walking to the car getting you for probable intent. We also have the government doing the MyHealth Record, now we know that they will be sharing the information between doctors and maybe the doctors working for the health insurance companies, will they also need to check you email and texts to see if you are doing something that puts your health at risk, now no health insurance.
    I agree with you that this is a slippery slope, but there does not seem to be any proof that they will be able to perform any better catching the bad guys with all this additional information.

  2. John Abood

    August 15, 2018 at 8:56 am

    Hi Karl,

    While I understand where you’re coming from and did represent your counter-argument – I’d argue this a time we need to consider priority.

    As you said, police have always had ways of catching criminals, cyber or otherwise (I used the cat and mouse analogy) but why not make it easier for them? Because we’re afraid it reduces privacy?

    In your extrapolated examples such as GPS tracking, is that such a terrible thing? If the bloke in the car next to me is going 80 and nearly kills someone, why shouldn’t he cop the fine? Even if he doesn’t hit anything he’s still putting everyone around him at risk…

    The reason this is for safety is because it aids prevention. How many raids do we need on those planning acts of terror/drug dealers/human traffickers before you’ll consider it worth while?

  3. Aaron S

    December 7, 2018 at 5:36 am

    “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” -Benjamin Franklin.
    You are right in that it’s a slippery slope. However, we should be worried because the wet-noodle baby-boomer-led government is too incompetent to be able to prosecute a tiny fraction of criminals without sacrificing the liberty and security of the majority of the nation.

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