Last week, the Attorney General told anyone who'd listen that Australia would be taking the global lead on dealing with access to encrypted communications. That pesky need for citizens to have access to privacy was hampering the ability of security agencies to do their jobs. While we were all wondering how that might happen, the government has responded.
An inquiry into the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 points to giving the Attorney General's office oversight into the operations of telecommunications networks.
The point of the bill is to "introduce a regulatory framework to manage national security risks of espionage, sabotage and foreign interference to Australia’s telecommunications networks and facilities".
When the bill was opened to public consultation, there were responses made by private sector and peak bodies, as well as security agencies. By and large, the private sector and industry bodies wanted some form of self-regulation while law enforcement advocated for more power - hardly surprising positions.
Section 5 of the inquiry response says:
the Bill relocates an existing directions power (proposed section 315A); and creates a new power for the Attorney-General to direct a carrier or carriage service provider (C/CSP) or intermediary to do or refrain from doing certain things in order to reduce or eliminate security risks
This represents a significant change - one that puts a lot of power into the hands of the Attorney General.
We live in a world where there our perception of threats is greatly heightened. And the government, while rightly focusing on stopping bad guys from doing bad things, is putting a lot of focus on centralising control and increasing the powers of law enforcement.
But that might not be the best answer. Instead of using the stick of law, I wonder if a more effective method might be to engage in a consultative process. There aren't many tech companies that won't work with law enforcement as long as requests are reasonable and don't compromise the need for citizen privacy.
The Attorney General seems to think the only way to achieve his outcomes is by having more power. Increasing control of telecommunications networks means they could, potentially, block encrypted messaging services if he thinks they are being used nefariously.
Do you want the government to have that power?