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Thursday, 11 October 2018 10:50

Adopting encryption bill will endanger the online world

Adopting encryption bill will endanger the online world Pixabay

Will the adoption of the Federal Government's encryption bill make life online safer for the average citizen and guard against the growth of child pornography and terrorism? No. On the contrary, passing this bill into law will only help those who are involved in these activities to thrive.

The government appears to be talking about a 21st century situation and thinking of 1950s paradigms when it tries to rally support for this flawed piece of legislation. On Wednesday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was up on the podium at the National Press Club in Canberra, advancing the same tired arguments in support of the bill that he has put forward every time he has a chance to do so.

It looks like no government minister or supporter is willing to accept one fundamental truth: there is one form of encryption that we all use. Businesses, banks, private citizens, crooks, criminals, terrorists – this is basically a level playing field as far as encryption goes.

Trying to spread the myth that cracks can be devised for some devices and then kept secret from others is a tough gig. Even the American NSA, the best-resourced spook agency in the world, which has tonnes of high-grade talent, could not guard its own secrets and found itself in glorious disarray when a group called the Shadow Brokers unleashed Windows exploits on the Web in 2017.

And it's not as if the NSA had no prior warning that secrets could leak: in 2013, a young man by the name of Edward Snowden walked out of its portals and revealed a horde of secret documents that have given the world its best insight into how this secretive agency operates.

Those exploits, especially one that bears the endearing name EternalBlue, are being used by malicious attackers around the globe even today. We saw the biggest manifestations of EternalBlue use last year in the shape of ransomware known as WannaCry and NotPetya.

And Dutton still wants people to believe that cracks created for Australian situations will remain private from the rest of the world! Minister, pull the other one.

Australia has been pushed to advance this legislation because, let's face it, we are a vassal state. There are human rights charters in the US and UK, so this kind of nonsense would not wash there. New Zealand is a much smaller country than Australia, but like a small dog it tends to snap back much louder. And Canada is too big for the US to try and push it around. So Australia has to take out the trash.

The other Five Eyes countries, especially the US and the UK, are watching this exercise with great interest. Doubtless, what happens in Australia will serve to guide the other four as they try to bring in their own versions of what is called the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018.

There was a noticeable drop in the ferocity of Dutton's utterances on Wednesday, compared to the threats he ladled out in February — I listened to both speeches — when talking about the same bill (though the draft had not been released in February).

Using the argument that anyone who is against the bill is also supporting the likes of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook in their business tactics is silly. There are some things which are bad for all of us and this bill is firmly in that category.

Ultimately, it will be down to the Labor Party to stand up and say that it will not back the bill. The Greens have led the way and indications are that several other Senators will also not back this crazy legislation.

The time is fast approaching for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to show that he has some steel in his spine and not get wedged into that old "either-back-the-bill-or-we-will-say-that-Labor-is-weak-on-national-security" corner.

If he does not act, he would only be contributing to making life online less safe for everyone.


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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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