Big Brother at our door
NEVER ask police and intelligence agencies if they want more power because they will always say ‘‘yes’’. That’s their job.
But the job of a democratically elected government is to balance that authoritarian impulse with the rights of citizens in a free society. And that is where the Turnbull-Morrison Government has failed miserably with new cyber security laws before Parliament.
Ostensibly aimed at protecting us from crime and terrorism, they expose Australians to shocking security breaches and Orwellian state surveillance while actually making us less safe, according to every major tech company and IT professional who has reviewed the legislation.
The Assistance and Access Bill 2018, currently before a parliamentary committee, is an extraordinary expansion of the surveillance state. It would, for instance, allow the government to order the makers of smart home speakers to “install persistent eavesdropping capabilities into a person’s home, require a provider to monitor the health data of its customers for indications of drug use, or require the development of a tool that can unlock a particular user’s device regardless of whether such tool could be used to unlock every other user’s device as well, ” warns Apple in a submission opposing the Bill.
It will force tech companies and telcos to insert a “back door” – a systemic weakness or vulnerability – into all encrypted systems, so the government can access everyone’s private communications.
In other words, instead of targeting wrongdoers, the government will hoover up all communications on the chance they will find someone doing wrong. And, unlike surveillance laws around the world, this Bill requires no judicial oversight.
ASIO, ASIS, the Australian Signals Directorate, Federal Police and state police forces and bureaucrats in Peter Dutton’s mega Department of Home Affairs, acting in secret and without oversight from the courts, would be able to force companies to compromise their products to gain access to any data they want.
The Bill will affect every Australian who uses technology. Your smartphone contains a chip that encrypts your data. Your health records, online banking, cre- dit card transactions, the family photos you upload to the cloud, all are encrypted.
More than one trillion transactions occur every day over the internet as a result of encrypted communications. This Bill gives the government access to the lot.
Perversely, the law also is likely to help wrongdoers, say IT professionals. Cyber criminals and terrorists will be able to target the new systemic weaknesses. “If you put a back door into anything you want to keep secret, your enemies will figure out a way of getting in,” says one expert.
Last week, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton attacked Big Tech for opposing the Bill, saying Google and Facebook were tax dodgers who had to decide whether they were on the side of organised crime.
While he claims the legislation will not demand “back doors” into systems, Apple describes it as “dangerously ambiguous” on that score. Last week, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, the oversight body for the intelligence services, agreed, in an extraordinary 50-page list of concerns about the Bill.
Following the recent change in prime minister, the Cyber Security portfolio was axed and responsibilities handed to Dutton. He must now heed cogent warnings that this misguided, muddled legislation will cause more harm than good.