Friday, 16 November 2018 11:23

Encryption bill: US academic questions what law is trying to achieve Featured

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Encryption bill: US academic questions what law is trying to achieve Pixabay

American cryptography fellow Riana Pfefferkorn has questioned what end the Federal Government's encryption bill is trying to achieve, asking whether the ends of keeping crime under control could not be achieved by other means.

Dr Pfefferkorn was appearing as a witness before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on Friday, at the second hearing on the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 in Sydney.

She works with the Stanford Centre for Internet and Society, but appeared before the panel in an individual capacity.  

Dr Pfefferkorn said in the US, at least, the focus of law enforcement officials did not appear to be on outcomes; rather there appeared to be an obsession with the number of devices which were encrypted and from which they could not extract information.

She has made two written submissions to the inquiry, the second after a few changes were made in the original draft of the bill. She ended her second submission with the words, "I urge the Committee not to let this dangerous and misguided Bill proceed."

Dr Pfefferkorn took aim at officials from the Home Affairs department who had spoken critically about numerous submissions made against the bill because they were generic and did not deal with specific parts of the draft legislation.

In a democracy, every member of the public had a right to raise their voice in a debate of this kind, she said, adding that there could well be many people who just disliked the very idea of such a bill.

In this connection, Dr Pfefferkorn cited the recent case of children being detained on the US-Mexico border and asked whether it was not valid for someone to express an opinion against children being held in cages; did they have to deal with the specific measurements of the cages in order for their objections to be valid, she asked.

In her submissions, she has pointed out that despite the bill stating that providers cannot be required to “to implement or build a systemic weakness, or a systemic vulnerability, into a form of electronic protection”, it would lead to precisely that outcome.

The revised draft of the bill did not fix this issue either, she pointed out.

The first hearing before the PJCIS was held on 19 October and two more hearings are scheduled for 27 and 30 November. The Sydney hearing was not broadcast unlike the first one in Canberra; only an audio feed was available.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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