Thursday, 06 December 2018 11:47

Encryption bill: compromise a result of bullying, claims IA Featured

Encryption bill: compromise a result of bullying, claims IA Pixabay

The compromise encryption bill drafted by the government and Labor demonstrates just one thing – that bullying pays off, the head of Internet Australia, Dr Paul Brooks, claims.

He said IA was disappointed to read the brief advisory report issued by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on Wednesday night. "The Coalition and Opposition have agreed to rush the highly complex laws through Parliament this year, just a few short months into their bipartisan public review," he added.

Labor and the government struck a deal on Wednesday to pass the bill, officially known as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, on Thursday, the last sitting day of Parliament for the year. Some 50 pages of amendments were handed to the various parties early this morning before debate on the bill began.

"The extraordinary intervention by [Home Affairs] Minister [Peter] Dutton and Prime Minister Morrison into the PJCIS time-table risks damaging the reputation of parliamentary process and public review, as many experts question the time, thought and expertise poured into providing independent expert testimony through the parliamentary committee process, only to have the advice largely dismissed or ignored," Dr Brooks said.

He was referring to media conferences given by the two Coalition figures in November, where they insisted that the bill should be passed this year.

Dr Brooks said while the panel's recommendations, if accepted, would provide greater oversight and improve controls over notices and requests to some extent, the bill would still undermine public trust in Internet systems and force Australian tech businesses to set up shop offshore.

He said what was more striking was what the PJCIS had omitted. “Many of the protections lie in the definition of ‘systemic weakness’, yet the words noted in recommendation nine are clearly inadequate – they don’t address what a ‘system’ might be, and only focuses on ‘information’ as the key determinant.

“It completely ignores concerns about system integrity, information about systems, information about companies, or damage other than revealing 'information'. Under this definition, the weaknesses the Stuxnet worm used to destroy Iran's nuclear centrifuges would not be classified as a 'systemic weakness'.

"Neither would any weakness/vulnerability that enabled a device to be compromised and used in a botnet or as a DDoS attack source – as this doesn't reveal information."

Dr Brooks said the legislation would hinge on the definition of the term systemic weakness, which he said was "a complex concept likely to require different nuances for hardware components, software components, and globally distributed applications and websites".

"As we and others pointed out in our submission to the PJCIS, often a capability is not recognised as a systemic weakness or vulnerability until months or years have passed, when significant harm has already been done – so this definition must be constructed very carefully, with input from IT systems experts."

He asked the government to consider the human rights aspects of the bill very carefully and to examine the questions raised by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights in its Report 11 of 2018 and the submission made by the Australian Human Rights Commission to the PJCIS over the encryption bill.

"The human rights implications of this bill are extensive and important, and the public deserves to understand how the modifications to the bill address the human rights concerns, especially if other nations seek to follow this model," Dr Brooks added.

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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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