The Assistance and Access Bill 2018

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The Assistance and Access Bill 2018

So. It turns out that the "Communique" that various intelligence agencies released last week that threatened to legislate back doors into every commonly used piece of communication technology wasn't an idle threat, as they already have a few things in the works. The farthest along is this bill in the Australian government that proposes to essentially force various companies to co-operate in compromising their security for the government's benefit.

The bill itself has the general boilerplate of crime / terrorism / children to justify itself. However the frightening part is the language used. It proposes that the backdoors be accessible without requiring a court order and imposes a gag order punishable by 10 years in prison on anyone who discusses how these backdoors are used. This is incredibly open ended, and while most of the opponents to this bill generally cite the standard issues with any proposal to backdoor encryption without weakening security; that is, it's impossible and many people will be robbed as well as having their identities stolen; my immediate thought boiled down to something which might not be a complete coincidence on the government's part. That is, retaliation against political opponents. With this bill, you could immediately crush any political movement you wanted. You don't even have to be obvious about it, as you're effectively in the same room as they are. Once you can monitor Labor/Liberal's/Green's communications you can pretty much insure that they never win an election again just by continually being one step ahead and countering their strategies directly. If anyone is then caught abusing this bill, well so what, if the victim tells anyone they'll go to jail for 10 years. If they tell anyone anyway, the government will say it was a one off action by a single person and publicly tell them off in a small press release. Then send the other person who spoke out to jail for 10 years to insure that no one else gets any ideas.

Why do I think the government would do such a thing? Partly because western governments have targeted journalists and other unpopular political leaders in the past, so I don't doubt that both the Australian government and the Americans who also will get access to this data will immediately be tempted to try using it to get rid of a few annoying people who just "don't know when to keep quiet". Also partly because in an era of Donald Trump, political leaders are now starting to be investigated, and some incredibly far reaching crimes are being uncovered. Would those people have hesitated to use this level of access for personal gain if it had been available at the time? It's a rhetorical question, of course not. Finally because the current government is embroiled in scandal after scandal and they don't seem to be upstanding enough to restrain themselves from abusing this power once they have access to it.

As for the stated goal of the bill? Combating terrorism, sex and financial crimes? Maybe it could be helpful, however you can already get a great deal of information with a warrant in almost every situation, and there are few laws preventing the police from simply grabbing people if they want to (for a limited time, you can detain practically anyone for questioning). One thing we've learnt from the scandal with HSBC being caught laundering money for the cartels is that a lot of the time the reason people / corporations get away with these crimes is that those in charge of supervising them simply don't care or are willing to give the perpetrators the benefit of the doubt. It turns out that it's easy to give people the benefit of the doubt when they're incredibly wealthy and influential and prosecuting them is a huge hassle. It's easier to tap the phones of people protesting dumping into the great barrier reef, also more profitable. If you do want to investigate terrorism and abuse you can do so now, it just requires you to get a warrant and demonstrate a reason before you begin deploying the power of the government against an individual.

So if you feel that maybe this bill needs to be rethought, at least to make it require a warrant and not impose penalties on people discussing it's deployment (like all other aspects of the law). The government has a period where it accepts email commentary at the following address. I encourage people to write in if they feel strongly, as Australians we need to be a part of our Democracy.

https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/about/consultations/assistance-and-access-bill-2018

I also wrote in to my MP, Jane Prentice, but got a form letter in response. I'm not entirely sure if my email has been read, but I'll definitely follow up on it and establish a line of communication with my representatives. This is really the problem here, I don't really want to be up to date on politics, however with all the scandals in the news it looks like I have to be, as the alternative involves giving people who are either involved in financial scandals or complaining about petty office bullying on national news the unchecked ability to just assign themselves more powers while removing oversights. Even if the current administration is responsible and doesn't abuse this bill, can we guarantee that the next administration does the same?