Saturday, 20 October 2018 05:55

Encryption bill: Consultation? What consultation, asks CA's Stanton Featured

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Encryption bill: Consultation? What consultation, asks CA's Stanton Pixabay

Communications Alliance chief John Stanton has questioned the Federal Government's claims about having consulted widely before drafting its encryption bill, pointing out during a parliamentary hearing that he had had just a single meeting with a representative of the attorney-general's office in the run-up to the release of the public draft of the bill.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security held the first day of hearings into what is officially known as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 on Friday.

Stanton contrasted the degree of consultation he had been accorded over this bill with that which the CA had experienced during the drafting of the Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms bill; he said he had been consulted thrice during various stages of drafting to ensure that industry was satisfied with what was finally enshrined in legislation.

Also taking aim at the level of consultation, which Hamish Hansford of the Department of Home Affairs claimed earlier had been "wide-ranging", was Dr Suelette Dreyfus, who appeared at the hearing representing rights body Blueprint for Free Speech.

Dr Dreyfus, who is a well-known and respected technology researcher, said the consultation that had been gone through was not representative of a democracy, only a "faux democracy".

The hearing featured a packed agenda, making it impossible for those who appeared to have more than a small bite of the cherry: appearing on a day which ran to less than eight hours were representatives of

  • ASIO
  • the Department of Home Affairs
  • the AFP
  • the Australian Signals Directorate
  • the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission
  • the Australian Border Force
  • the Law Council of Australia
  • Telstra
  • Optus
  • Cisco
  • Communications Alliance
  • the Australian Industry Group
  • the Australian Information Industry Association
  • the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association
  • BSA | The Software Alliance
  • Electronic Frontiers Australia
  • Blueprint for Free Speech
  • Digital Rights Watch
  • Future Wise and
  • Access Now.

Cisco was well represented, with four staff, including Eric Wenger, director, Cyber Security and Privacy Policy, Global Government Affairs, and Tim Fawcett, head of Government Affairs, Cisco Systems Australia. Wenger appeared from Washington via a video hook-up, despite the late hour.

The company has good reason to be worried about the bill for it has seen what can happen when the fact that backdoors have been implemented in hardware becomes known.

In 2014, it was revealed by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden that the agency's Tailored Access Operations Unit had backdoored the firmware of Cisco equipment without the company's knowledge, while it was en route to organisations that had been targeted for surveillance.

According to the British newspaper The Independent at the time: "An analysis of financial filings from technology giants IBM and Cisco by The Independent on Sunday reveals the two businesses have seen sales slump by more than $1.7 billion (£1.03 billion) year-on-year in the important Asia-Pacific region since [Edward] Snowden revealed in June [2013] that US companies had been compromised by the NSA's intelligence-gathering in the clandestine Prism programme."

Wenger suggested that companies be able to mount a court challenge to any decyrption notices they received under the bill.

The organisations and companies that appeared had already advanced their arguments for and against the bill in submissions either made directly to Home Affairs or else to the hearing.

The impact that the bill would have on Australian businesses was highlighted by the CA's Christiane Gillespie-Jones when she pointed out that the equivalent of what Australia had done to Chinese telecommunications firms Huawei and ZTE — banned them from having a role in the 5G rollout — could well happen to Australian IT firms who did business overseas if the bill were passed in its current form.

PJCIS chair Andrew Hastie made light of this assertion, by saying that Australia is not a Communist country.

Perhaps the person who felt most short-changed at the end of the day was Darryn Lim, who appeared for BSA | The Software Alliance, and had flown in from Singapore to appear at the hearing.

Lim, who gave a detailed interview to iTWire last month about the flaws in the bill, represents the views of Adobe, Amazon Web Services, ANSYS, Apple, Autodesk, AVEVA, Baseplan Software, Bentley Systems, Box, CA Technologies, Cad Pacific/Power Space, Cad Pacific, Cisco, CNC/Mastercam, DataStax, DocuSign, IBM, Informatica, Intel, Mathworks, Microsoft, Okta, Oracle, PTC, Salesforce, SAS Institute, Siemens PLM Software, Splunk, Symantec, Trend Micro, Trimble Solutions Corporation, and Workday.

Hastie said Apple, Amazon and Microsoft had informed the hearing that their views were not being presented by the BSA.

Lim was originally scheduled to have an hour and 15 minutes to present his views and answer questions. But on Friday, he had just 20-odd minutes to make his case and defend it.

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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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