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Tuesday, 09 July 2019 11:07

Encryption law: lots of jaw, but the end product will be a dog

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Encryption law: lots of jaw, but the end product will be a dog Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Submissions. Reviews. More submissions. More reviews. When it comes to the Coalition Government's encryption law, there has been no shortage of material published, from both the companies that are affected and the government.

But it all appears to be a waste of time, if the submission made by the Department of Home Affairs to the latest inquiry is any indication.

The level of spin in that submission is better than anything Shane Warne could produce in his prime. All the opposition to the law is put down to "misunderstanding" of the legislation.

And the department is all set to provide material to rectify that gap in understanding. Chapter closed, nothing to see here, move on.

Before one goes any further, it's important to understand why the law was put in place. It was devised for one reason, and one reason only: so that spy agencies could get back on an equal footing with technology firms and have a big stick with which to beat them whenever they want.

As any person with a technical background knows, you don't need to read content to track people. Metadata, which cannot be encrypted, tells a thousand tales. Don't take my word for it, ask Edward Loomis, one of the better cryptologists who worked for the NSA.

Additionally, when third parties are used for data storage and processing, that data cannot be encrypted. Most users, terrorists or law-abiding citizens, fall squarely into this territory.

And since every device is becoming a little computer and therefore a surveillance device, law enforcement has a myriad more new data streams, that will not be encrypted, to look for evidence of this or that. They don't really need access to content of encrypted messages. And who says so? Why, a man named Bruce Schneier.

It's important to note that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has retained the power to redact any report from the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Thus, if there are defects in the law which the ombudsman points out, you and I, gentle reader, will be blissfully unaware of them. Unaware until the Australian Federal Police comes pounding on our doors at the crack of dawn, before we even have time to hide our underwear.

While there are reports aplenty that the panel that is doing all these reviews — the Parliamentary Joint Panel on Intelligence and Security — is a bipartisan unit that has done a credible job all these years, that means nothing.

Dutton has already indicated that if he does not like something the PJCIS recommends, then he will just refuse to follow it. One only has to read the detailed report about the citizenship legislation published in The Saturday Paper to get an idea of how the former Queensland policeman operates.

Reporter Karen Middleton did not beat about the bush, starting out with this: "The federal government has rejected the advice of parliament’s authoritative watchdog committee on intelligence and security, that before placing a two-year ban on Australian terrorism sympathisers returning home from overseas it should consider whether it puts them at risk or leaves them with nowhere to go." There's more in that report, much more.

Dutton will be given a free hand to do what he likes, no matter that every political pundit parrots the line that Prime Minister Scott Morrison can pull anyone and everyone into line after his unexpected election win. Dutton is the man who started the whole insurrection that caused ructions aplenty within the party last year.

And the government doesn't want any such hoo-ha this time around. The Home Affairs portfolio was created to make him happy and no matter what he does, Morrison is unlikely to object.

One wishes one had better things to say but as far as this episode goes, I think Australia is really screwed.

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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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