Friday, 30 November 2018 10:34

Senetas says encryption bill may force it to move offshore Featured

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Senetas chairman Francis Galbally speaking to the PJCIS on Friday. Senetas chairman Francis Galbally speaking to the PJCIS on Friday. Screenshot by Sam Varghese

Australian encryption technology firm Senetas has raised the possibility that it may be forced to manufacture its products outside the country if the Federal Government's encryption bill — which is officially known as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 — is passed.

In a forceful presentation to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, Senetas chairman Francis Galbally said the bill was demonstrably and fundamentally flawed, adding that the laws of mathematics were not a plaything for politicians.

He pointed out that it was surprising that such a big Australian player in the encryption technology export space like his company had not been consulted at all in the drafting of the bill. It was surprising that the bill had been introduced at all, given the level of objection, he added.

Asked by Senator Jim Molan directly whether Senetas was consulted, Galbally responded, "No, and I am gobsmacked that we were not invited." He made reference to the fact that Australian technology exports are worth more than $3 billion a year; a good proportion of that is due to Senetas.

Appearing along with the Senetas team, the Consilium International Group's Michael Zarew pointed out that four weeks ago, Senetas has sent the submission it had made to the PJCIS to the Home Affairs department.

But, he said, there been no response from the department at all, adding that it looked very much like the government agencies were avoiding Senetas.

Asked many times about how he would define a system weakness — which the bill claims it is not asking anyone to create — Galbally pointed out what many others have failed to do at other PJCIS hearings: it was not possible to say what would create such a weakness until a change was made and then observed for many years.

In the last couple of days, news has emerged of the mass hijacking of routers, with the exploit used having been based on one that was stolen from the NSA and leaked on the Web in 2017.

Galbally pointed to this and said that if an organisation like the NSA, which was the most technologically advanced spy agency in the world, could not secure its exploits, then Australian organisations stood no chance.

Senetas chief executive Andrew Wilson told the committee that any change of hardware or software could introduce a systemic weakness.

Both he and Galbally emphasised that it was a question of trust which they said was paramount in their business.

Galbally pointed out that Australia was the most trustworthy country in the world when it came to cyber security and said that Senetas counted amongst its clients the Israeli Knesset, the US military, the Australian Signals Directorate and the Australian Federal Police.

He stressed that there was no need for an actual vulnerability to be introduced for Senetas' business to be affected; the moment the bill was passed, its competitors abroad would use that as a stick with which to run down the company's reputation.

Galbally obliquely referred to Chinese telecommunications company Huawei Technologies, which has been sidelined from playing a role in the 5G rollout in Australia, and said: "We will see the same impact on Australian industry following passage of this law."

He said Australian technology professionals faced the prospect of being locked out of international bodies because of the spectre that that bill would cast on them.

Also appearing before the PJCIS on Friday were Lizzie O'Shea of Human Rights Watch and Nathan White of the rights organisation Access Now.

The committee's final hearing is scheduled for 4 December. The last sitting date of Parliament for the year is 6 December.

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Sam Varghese

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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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