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In midst of encryption debate, NBN Co pushes use of VPNs

In what can only be termed a curious coincidence, the NBN Co, the company building the national broadband network, has published a blog post about the benefits of using a VPN - right at the time when the government is making noises about bringing in curbs on encryption.

The NBN Co's blog posts usually provide the name of the author – but the VPN post has none.

Ever since the series of terrorist attacks in London occurred this year, there has been talk, first by British politicians, and more recently from the local element itself, of curbs on encryption. This is because, supposedly, without encryption terrorism would not be possible.

The overblown fears of politicians have been given fuel aplenty by uneducated journalists writing articles that portrayed encrypted apps like WhatsApp and Telegram as being central to any act of terror.

In this milieu, the NBN Co's article does come as something of a surprise. The figleaf for writing the article now is apparently Privacy Awareness Week – which, incidentally, was marked in May.


It is doubtful whether Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would be amused by this line from the post: "One of the main ways of blocking out unwanted eyes from peeking in on your activities and invading your privacy is through a VPN."

Especially since it comes at a time when he has been saying, "We need these global social media messaging companies to assist in providing access to encrypted communications… The security services need to get access to them."

The NBN Co post is actually quite a good guide for those who know nothing about a VPN. There are lines that could provide fodder for a few jokes; for instance, the line "For example, if you are streaming Netflix — a service that has a high demand on Internet bandwidth — is there much for unwanted eyes to see?" could be taken to mean a subtle reference to Five Eyes, the intelligence-sharing alliance of the five English-speaking countries.

Turnbull presumably would also not be thrilled by a public sector company offering this kind of advice: "When entering personal information, sending sensitive files or doing any number of personal tasks you might want to keep private – this is when many users might activate a VPN."

In its urge to push itself into the public gaze in a positive light, the NBN Co may well have committed what the French, those masters of language, refer to as a faux pas. Perhaps that articulate pollie, George Brandis, will have something to say about it. A man of his delicate sensibilities would definitely understand the term faux pas.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.