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Thursday, 28 March 2019 11:23

Encryption law: time for tech industry to take the reins Featured

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Encryption law: time for tech industry to take the reins Pixabay

The Federal Government has taken the easy way out in dealing with issues around its encryption law and kicked it down the road, leaving it for the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor to deal with by April 2020.

Importantly, from the government's point of view, the intelligence and police agencies, the main constituents whom it has sought to please, can continue to use provisions of the law, with no sign of any amendments in sight – yet. Not that these would help a great deal – the legislation is so flawed that it cannot be rescued.

On Wednesday, for the umpteenth time, there was a cry of protest from the tech industry, with a Sydney forum, organised under the name Safe Encryption Australia, outlining the negatives of the law.

Towards the end of the two-hour session, when the chairman of encryption technology company Senetas, Francis Galbally, got up to offer some closing remarks, there was a sign that his patience had worn thin.

He urged the tech industry to speak to the government with one voice about the law, pointing out that there were too many bodies making representations.

And then he brought up the way the Opposition of the time had tackled the mining and resources rent tax. True, this was hardly a civil exercise, with Tony Abbott, backed by the mining industry, using every tactic in the book to cow down the government.

Galbally probably isn't asking for anyone to be that rude and abrasive. But as head of a company that brings in a sizeable portion of the tech industry's $3.2 billion-odd annual revenue, one senses that he is under the most pressure as he sells a very sensitive product: encryption technology.

Over the years, Senetas has managed to sell its technology to a number of very finicky clients: the Israeli Knesset, the US military, the Australian Signals Directorate and the Australian Federal Police.

Forget the locals, those foreign clients would walk away in a trice if there was the slightest suspicion that any of the technology they were buying had been tampered with. Paranoia is rife in the US; this is the same country which recently claimed that German cars — yes, German — were a threat to its national security.

One can, thus, understand Galbally's frustration and his appeal for the industry to become a little more robust in dealing with the government.

Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen. The best option at this juncture, as I have pointed out before, is to make repeal of the encryption law an election issue.

Rather than wait for Labor to keep its promises — no doubt, made in all sincerity by Shadow Minister for Human Services and the Digital Economy, Ed Husic, on Wednesday — the better option would be for the tech industry should take its own ball and run with it.

Remember it is a Labor man, Anthony Byrne, who joined with Andrew Hastie, the head of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, to kick any action on the encryption law down the road. There is a compact between the parties when it comes to national security and Labor is generally quite happy to do what it often, on reflection, says it should not have done. Mark Dreyfus was singing that tune earlier this year, about the same encryption law.

No, it is time for the tech industry to go on the front foot. Else, Galbally, and others too, should start looking for office space, maybe in New Zealand, or else Canada.

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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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