Big Brother at our door

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - NEWS - mi­randa.devine@news.com.au MI­RANDA DEVINE

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.

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