Friday, 16 November 2018 15:42

Encryption bill: problems due to secret drafting, says IA Featured

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Encryption bill: problems due to secret drafting, says IA Pixabay

The level of public criticism and opposition to the Federal Government's encryption bill has come about because it was developed with very little consultation and then suddenly dumped on the public, the head of Internet Australia, Dr Paul Brooks, says.

He told the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Security and Intelligence, which held its second hearing on the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 in Sydney on Friday, that the bill in its current form, or anything similar to it, should not be implemented.

Dr Brooks was the main voice heard during the afternoon session of Friday's hearing; others who attended were the Communications Alliance's John Stanton and Christiane Gillespie-Jones; Holly Raiche, also of IA, and Martin Thomson of Mozilla who appeared on behalf of the Internet Architecture Board.

The IA chair drew on his submission to the inquiry, detailing what could happen if the bill, with its loose definitions and overly broad catch-all language, was put into practice.

He pointed out the dangers inherent in introducing changes — either in hardware or software — and expecting that they would remain secret. Someone or the other would find out, and then either change things back — in which case the original purpose would be defeated — or else document it publicly, again defeating the whole point of creating the change.

As he has done earlier in a letter to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Dr Brooks pointed out that what Australia had done to Chinese telcos Huawei and ZTE could be revisited on Australian companies. All it would take was a rumour that a law of this nature was in force and companies could be coerced to secretly build in capabilities, and other countries would start to shun Australian products. Trust, he emphasised, was everything when it came to things that spanned the Internet.

The IAB's appearance for such a national inquiry is a rare event, and Thomson said it would not have even made a submission were it not for the fact that the bill had ramifications for the entire Internet.

In its submission, the IAB has made the following specific recommendations:

  • The law should significantly clarify the meaning of “systemic vulnerability” and “systemic weakness” in relation to a number of different types of systems, including critical Internet infrastructure.
  • It should explicitly prohibit the use of this legislation to compel co-operation by operators of critical Internet infrastructure services, including but not limited to DNS, PKI, and BGP.
  • It should prohibit the use of this legislation to compel co-operation by implementations of Internet Standards-Track protocols such as HTTP, DNS, TCP, QUIC, IP and TLS.
  • It should also prohibit the use of the law to compel cooperation by standards developing organisations and their participants (in that capacity).
  • It should provide for cases where this legislation clashes with the commitments a recipient might have in other jurisdictions.

Stanton and Gillespie Jones appeared in connection with a question taken on notice during the first hearing on 19 October, regarding how many state-based agencies were applying for metadata under the Telecommunications Act. iTWire  reported on that yesterday.


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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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