Despite a raft of 173 amendments being proposed, acknowledgement that the legislation is flawed and the opposition of almost every technical expert, the Australian government and opposition have passed the new Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) though the House of Representatives and Senate last night. This is a striking blow to our cybersecurity and technology industry that will put the jobs of thousands of tech workers at risk and, in some cases, put them in a position where they could be jailed for not telling their bosses if they are creating backdoors into software at the request of government.
The legislation was passed unamended despite a raft of 173 changes proposed and handed to the senate with barely a couple of hours for them to be considered.
Let’s just consider that one fact for a moment. A piece of law where there were at least 173 contentious points that ought to have been considered was passed. Every single member of the House or Representatives – except the two MPs who should be commended for voting against the laws – should be found derelict in their jobs for that fact alone. And a majority of 44 votes to 12 voted for the unamended laws in the Senate.
As Senator Jordon Steele-John said “Sad day for democracy and our online privacy, safety & security. #Auspol just broke the internet…”
The effects of this law are substantial.
Think about that. You’re a software developer creating a secure system and a member of the law enforcement community directs you to weaken the system you’re working on. If you do it and are discovered by your boss, you’ll probably never work in the industry again. If you do it and tell your boss, you could go to jail. If you don’t do it, you’d be in contempt and go to jail.
Bye bye career. Bye bye life as you knew it.
Well shit, I've already got international folks asking if they need to treat their Australian teams as potentially compromised now.— Paul Fenwick (@pjf) December 6, 2018
Unfortunately, yes. With the #aabill you can be compelled to secretly break security on a system, or go to jail.#auspol
Rather succinctly, former senator Scott Ludlam, now unencumbered by the need to express himself in politically-friendly terms, summed the situation up.
Over the last five years the Australian tech industry has done a great job of proving itself to the international community. The Australian Cyber Security Growth Network, or AustCyber, has been supporting emerging infosec companies to gain a foothold in international markets. A number of large tech companies have established offices here. Those aren’t just sales offices. In many cases technical teams leading product development are here because we have some of the best developers in the world and the Aussie lifestyle is a great attraction.
All of that is now in jeopardy. When I travel to the United States I’m often asked about the local tech scene. I can no longer say with confidence that this is a great place for tech companies to do business.
Incidentally, in order to rush this legislation through, the government scarified a bill that would release the remaining children in detention on Nauru and a bill that could have compelled power companies to reduce our power bills in the new year.
That package of amendments is still on the table. The government could consider them in the new year – if it feels like it. But it has the laws it wanted, the opposition talked tough and then rolled over and we now lead the world in finding new ways to screw the future.
By the way – the two MPs who voted against the bill were Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilke. Write to them and thank them for being on the right side of a losing debate. If you’re inclined, a commenter has kindly created a list of every MP’s email address so you can email all of them, telling them what you think of this bill.