Home Open Sauce More spin in an effort to polish the encryption turd

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More spin in an effort to polish the encryption turd Pixabay

The Australian Cyber Security Growth Network and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute are planning to issue a report that will apparently provide "high-level case studies" of what the government's encryption law means.

Exactly what that means is open to debate, given that ever since the draft of the bill was issued on 14 August, we have seen plenty of commentary from eminently qualified people who have essentially said that the bill should be cremated as a public service.

AustCyber (now there's a catchy name for you) chief Michelle Price was quoted extensively by the website InnovationsAus as effectively saying that everything spoken and written about what is officially known as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018 was a load of ballyhoo.

Price and the head of ASPI's International Cyber Policy Centre, Fergus Hanson, had plans to publish the report before the encryption bill became law but were apparently caught out by the politics of it all.

Never mind, as Price put it, “There is a whole set of circumstances multiplied by the fact that conversations are emerging and sensitive technologies have been running rampant globally.”

Make sense of that if you will.

After reading and writing about Australian Signals Directorate director-general Mike Burgess' reaction to the Federal Government's encryption law, one was inclined to think that it was the nadir of silliness, that no government spin could be more laughable.

But it appears that there are virtuosos who can indeed do better, and that they are willing to bare their souls to journalists who, no doubt, knew that they were creating fodder for others to have a good laugh. And perhaps react, as one has chosen to.

Before I venture further, let me add a bit of perspective here: AustCyber is a government-funded body. ASPI receives some government funding and among its main sponsors are shipbuilder Austal, US defence contractor Lockheed Martin, Swedish defence company Saab, the Australian arm of American defence contractor Raytheon, MBDA Missile Systems, accounting firm KPMG, and Jacobs, a global provider of technical, professional, and scientific services.

Its cyber policy centre is backed by French defence contractor Thales, Google, au domain namespace administrator auDA, security firm Palo Alto Networks, the Federal Government, Jacobs and encryption technology company Senetas.

Nobody could call any report emanating from bodies such as this biased, could they?

Hanson was quoted by InnovationsAus as saying: “With a bill this complex, lots of things come out of the woodwork as it gets more scrutiny. Whatever you think about the bill, 17 sitting days is not enough time to iron out the wrinkles in a bill this complex."

One wonders why, then, the chairman of Senetas, Francis Galbally, said the only way for the bill not to affect his company was for the government to give him an exemption. He didn't look anything like an individual who habitually breaks the law. Perhaps he knows something that Hanson does not.

I don't want to deprive any reader of the sheer enjoyment of reading through spin of this kind and also do not wish to poach too much material from InnovationsAus who, I think, have done all of us a great favour by interviewing this duo.

One is unsure whether these two worthies listened to the hearings held by the Parliament Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, but, at one of them, Daniel J. Weitzner of MIT referred to a paper which, he said, outlined all the issues the bill would pose. Presciently, that paper was written in 2015.

Its authors are Harold Abelson, Ross Anderson, Steven M. Bellovin, Josh Benaloh, Matt Blaze, Whitfield Diffie, John Gilmore, Matthew Green, Susan Landau, Peter G. Neumann, Ronald L. Rivest, Jeffrey I. Schiller, Bruce Schneier, Michael Specter, and Daniel J. Weitzner. I can confidently assert that these good people have a little knowledge of cryptography.

Price and Hanson would do well to read that paper which is here before trying to spin the law for what it is not.

There comes a time in the life of women and men when they have to realise that you cannot polish a turd. And that is effectively what Price and Hanson are trying to do.

Signal developer Joshua Lund is no fool and has little interest in Australia or its laws. Yet, since the encryption law will also affect Signal, he took the trouble to point out, at length, how damaging the law would be to both developers and the code they cut.

Were it not for the fact that the law would affect multinational companies like Cisco and Apple, they would not have any interest in getting involved. But since it can affect their revenue stream, they got involved.

The only way this law can be bettered is by repealing it. Its provisions cannot work, they will damage the small software industry that is present in Australia, and decimate the profession.

The law was brought in for one reason, and one reason, only: so that the spy agencies could have something with which they could hold like the sword of Damocles over tech firms.

That is a terribly short-sighted approach, but when you have a government that is willing to shift its embassy in Israel in order to try and win a single parliamentary seat, it is not surprising.

The law has been passed in haste and over the next few years there will be reason to repent at leisure.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame 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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