The Living Thing / Notebooks :

Australian Authoritarianism

Beneath the beach, the barbed wire

Usefulness: 🔧
Novelty: 💡
Uncertainty: 🤪 🤪
Incompleteness: 🚧 🚧 🚧

Wherein I witness various suggestive tendencies in Australian politics so I will know where it came from as it worsens.

WARNING: Several incoherent paragraphs I consolidated from elsewhere that need editing to make sense. Kept here for the links, not the structured argumentation.

In Australia it is illegal for companies to sell encryption without spyware, and where it is illegal to confess to the spyware. Private information in Australia is accessed by an unaccountable surveillance apparatus thanks to the AssAccess Bill. No worries, mate she’ll be right, fingers crossed. Don’t feel too bad, though, aspiring terrorist, YOU can still have encryption, it is only the average citizen or business, it is no longer feasible. The results of this mean that, for example, if you blow the whistle on your government abusing tax powers, or using spying to gain commercial advantage over devastated poverty-riddle neighbours.

There is a recurring theme in recent Australian history, which is to keep oversight of the federal government to an absolute minimum.

On one hand I agree that making it too easy for anyone to go dark is bad in the age of Moore’s Law of Mad Science. The trouble is that making it hard for very dangerous people to go dark is very hard, and making it hard for normal people to maintain confidentiality is easy. Making it too easy for the state to backdoor incredibly pervasive spy technology with no oversight during the great democratic malaise is a fragile way to run a society.

Many people today are living in surveillance states with weak citizen protection and persecution of citizens who blow the whistle on state wrongdoing, rapid erosion of privacy, criminalisation of failure to turn state informer, or even counselling resistance, and attacks on the free press, all without oversight by the public.

So, I’m concerned with the recent behaviour of the Australian state, especially at the federal level. As largely irrelevant background here, I am not a tinfoil-hat libertarian who thinks that all state power is a priori bad. I think there is a role for police and security services. Indeed, I’m not a fan of acts of terrorism, which are one of the things that can exploit encrypted communication. However, when a state starts granting themselves power to intercept communications without oversight, and in particular criminalises oversight, they are using terrorism as a fig leaf. Any power, state or commercial can accumulate, and needs to be balanced by checks and oversights. In an in-principle democratic state like Australia, that means democratic oversight, which indeed seems to being white-anted by the state for partisan convenience. After a series of uses of the Federal Police for partisan political ends, the government has responded by granting themselves increased power to seize information while criminalising public oversight of that power, and consolidating power in the hands of fewer people, and crush public scrutiny. This trend suggests it is worth investing in state-resistant infrastructure now, while we still can.

The safeguards to protect democracy from abuse by the state are weak. This system has similarities to Russia, China and Turkey, where end-to-end encryption is banned, but in Australia our regime is relatively sophisticated, and requires us tech people to break your encryption, then turn around and lie to your face about it. You can read opinions about that from various commentators, e.g. ProtonVPN, Mark Nottingham, South China Morning Post.

It’s nice though that we have better PR than Kazakhstan, for example, who got more busted reading its citzens’ email and block web searches.

OK, you are doing something that the Australian state finds threatening, such as exposing possible murder by government employees, and for which they will send you to prison. The state will mobilise the full force of the law to get at you.

AFAICT there is no oversight and little concern for the details of the bill. No-one watches the watchers. The safeguards to protect democracy from abuse by the state are weak. This system is much like Russia, China and Turkey, where end-to-end encryption is banned, but in Australia, our regime is more sophisticated, and requires us to break your encryption, then turn around and lie to your face about it. You can read opinions about that from various commentators, e.g. ProtonVPN, Mark Nottingham, South China Morning Post.