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Oz MP flies crypto-kite, wants backdoors without backdoors

When do private companies dictate how we run national security?

By Richard Chirgwin, 12 May 2017

Federal MP Anthony Byrne wants to re-start the encryption debate in Australia.

Speaking in parliament yesterday, the member of Australia's opposition Labor Party recalled last year's debate in the USA over a court's right to unlock iPhones during investigations into the 2015 San Bernardino attack.

Now-dismissed FBI boss James Comey made that one of the signature battles of his office in the last couple of years, repeatedly pressing the case that the tech sector should introduce backdoors that law enforcement could use, but black hats couldn't.

Byrne yesterday sheeted that to Cupertino, saying that “Apple would not unlock for the FBI the iPhone” used by the San Bernardino attacker.

And that's one of the angles Byrne wants to push in the debate, since he said: “The question is, when do private companies dictate how we run national security?”

While stopping short of demanding new legislation, and said while he's not “necessarily” asking for backdoors, “when we really do need to access the technologies, the data streams and the devices, we can do that in order to keep our community safe”.

It's a worrying development, because it suggests to Vulture South the persistence of magical thinking when it comes to encryption technology.

The UK rallied to Comey's cause last year, with its Investigatory Powers Act including provisions service providers warned represented backdoor mandates.

The government has over recent times put a ban on the modest level of encryption research needed to test the quality of anonymisation technology, having previously crimped other aspects of encryption research in its attempt to comply with the Wassenaar Arrangement (something Hacker One's policy wonk Katie Moussouris warned against in 2015).

As an opposition member, Byrne lacks the standing to initiate policy. We can only hope that if the crypto debate is revived in Australia, it can be led by those who understand that it's hard to ban mathematics. ®

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