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As Encryption Bill opposition digs in, data-retention abuse a reminder of unintended consequences

Credit: ID 31149093 © Loganban | Dreamstime.com

Damning reports of government agencies’ ongoing misuse of investigational powers have poured fuel on the fire as concerns about the Morrison government’s planned encryption interception legislation led Labor to step away from national-security bipartisanship by declining to blindly support the new legislation.

Debate over the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 had been minimal in the wake of government decisions to publish just a small portion of the nearly 15,000 submissions lodged during the consultation process over the bill.

The bill was initially greeted with cautious optimism by industry figures who welcomed the decision not to require explicit back-doors to work around encryption controls.

But as the government accuses Labor of siding with terrorists and tries to ramrod the legislation through Parliament, it has attracted criticism from all corners – including Apple, which took the unusual step of warning that the bill is “dangerously ambiguous”; Australian security success story Senetas, which warned during recent hearings that the legislation could push it and much of Australia’s software community overseas; and the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), whose chief executive Paul Murphy is concerned that the risk of snooping on encrypted conversations would have a chilling effect on investigative journalism by discouraging confidential sources from speaking out.

“Journalists increasingly rely on encrypted communications to protect the identity of confidential sources,” Murphy said. “Offering this protection is vital [and] gives whistleblowers the confidence to come forward with public interest concerns. In the absence of that confidence, many important stories will never come to light.”

Absolute power corrupts absolutely