Australia’s Spy Chief Blasts Anti-Encryption Critics as Influenced By “Self-Interest”

Things have gotten even more heated in the war on encryption. Australia’s spy chief came out swinging, blasting anti-encryption critics as motivated by “self-interest”.

Australia, in the last few months, has been pushing an anti-technology agenda with two separate pass at all costs pieces of legislation. One of the controversial pieces of legislation is known as the Assistance and Access Act 2018, or TOLA Act. The legislation was tabled back in August and was rushed through to passage merely four months later (this month).

The legislation has been almost universally condemned. A multitude of technology companies have threatened to leave Australia should the legislation pass, citing requirements to weaken any and all encryption being used.

The only people who support the legislation are those in the international spy community. Recently, Australia’s spy chief came out swinging, blasting critics for opposing the legislation. He goes as far as to say that critics are even motivated by “self interest”. From ABC:

In a rare, public statement, Mike Burgess has struck out at seven “myths”, asserting it was important to correct the record and assure Australians on how the laws would work in practice.

Mr Burgess, the director-general of the Australian Signals Directorate, said the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018, or TOLA Act, which Parliament approved last week, was “highly targeted” and directed at terrorists, paedophiles and criminals, not law-abiding Australians.

The TOLA Act gives security agencies new powers to compel telecommunication companies to allow access to encrypted data such as communication on messaging apps.

The comments are unlikely to satisfy critics who have already analyzed the legislation. With companies big and small already threatening to leave the country, it seems that minds are already made up on the legislation.

Further, the Australian government is rushing the process and is actively dismissing any and all criticism. So, it is unlikely, at this stage, that the government is going to budge an inch to put its foot down on technology. If anything, it’s almost an acknowledgement that the proposed legislation doesn’t really have any social license in Australia and that this is an effort to try and win back at least some support. After all, it is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who declared Australia a fallen country in the world of online privacy and free speech.

Either way, it’s not likely the controversy will go away any time soon. If threats are carried through, we are likely going to see a lot of fallout in Australia even after the laws go into effect.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.


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