The #AABill scares me more than terrorism does

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Communication app WhatsApp is apparently a favourite among people the bill is trying to stop (Image via

The Assistance and Access Bill has been designed to keep us safe from potential terrorism, but the idea of having our privacy stripped is just as terrifying, writes Steven Lopez.

ON 6 DECEMBER 2018, many people found themselves doing what no person ever wants to do — watching Parliament live.

There was a lot of concern regarding the Assistance and Access Bill (or #AABill as it is known on the Twittersphere) and while I looked around social media for posts in favour of it to get the other side’s view, I was not entirely successful. For every person who said they were for it (or even neutral), there were about 100 or more others saying they were not. And just when we thought we dodged a hastily rushed bill — it passed.

I put to you that the people opposed to the AA Bill are not, in any form, “happy” with terrorism, with which the Morrison Government accused the Opposition. The Opposition's crime? Doing their jobs and acting as a sanity check. That is until they chickened out and folded like a cheap suit.

I, too, support our police and agencies that work tirelessly to keep us safe and stop the bad guys. It is my honest opinion that this bill is about as useful as a Federal ICAC with no retrospective powers or the ability to find someone corrupt — it just won't do what it is supposed to do.

Even if the bill isn't targeting law-abiding people, even if it only targets those suspected of doing something really wrong, it’s what the bill does to allow such access that makes it inherently dangerous to ordinary Australians and Australian companies. Aussies can be compelled to install “backdoors” into software and devices. They're also supposed to keep it secret from their employers. What the actual f***?

If I was a foreign company, I would now need to think twice trusting an Australian with access to our systems. I'd need to consider everything they’ve done or do, maybe even monitor or fire them to protect the integrity of our products. Sadly, discussions such as this are already happening in foreign companies.

Let’s talk about that backdoor that the Government says they won't use to view our messages and/or photos because we're not the target. The device or software still has that backdoor and whoever has access to the keys can get in — permitted or otherwise. Do we honestly believe that the backdoor can be secured enough to prevent “bad actors” from getting in? We don’t know. Things can go wrong — accidental exposure, malicious access, rogue/internal abuse, exploitation of the backdoor. Any backdoor, big or small, adds what can be described as a “systemic weakness”. This is in the bill as something the Government doesn’t want companies to do, but it isn’t defined. Is a physical back door with a giant padlock a weakness to the integrity of the whole building compared to a hardened double brick wall? The Government may think it is an acceptable risk, while the occupants and I do not.

But what is the intention behind this bill? Apparently, bad people (terrorists, criminals and so on) are prone to use WhatsApp and other encrypted services to communicate, which is a real pain in the rear for agencies trying to stop them. Regretfully, this bill won’t help those agencies in matters like that.

I doubt WhatsApp or any foreign company will comply with any requests for assistance — why would they? They're not subject to this bill. Even if these companies decided to help or were able to assist, there are many other ways that allow for encrypted communication between many points that cannot be tapped or intercepted, none of which are complicated to set up. You don’t even need to know what you’re doing because there are likely instructional YouTube videos.

I can see why we’re doing this. We want to be safe. We ask our government to do everything they can to keep us safe and when things go wrong we're the first to blame them. But this isn't the answer. This is a fallacy.

The rights we are willing to part with and the actions we need to take for our security is a valid discussion. But this bill is not even effective at what it was designed to do. It is worse than doing nothing and the fact that our elected officials in Parliament do not seem to care or understand that scares me more than the bill or terrorism ever could.

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