The ongoing fight between privacy advocates and pro-surveillance circles stretches every corner of the globe. In its latest chapter, a body of tech companies and experts has addressed an open letter to the Australian government in which they expound their objection to the latter’s attitude regarding online privacy.
Under Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian government has been actively trying to bypass online privacy and security measures using legislation.
The government has already attempted to alter the law in a way that would enable its intelligence agencies to access private messages exchanged on the internet. It is still unclear how the government’s demands will be achieved from a technical perspective, but one could imagine that it would either force companies – such as Facebook, Google, and Apple – to reprogram their apps to send the messages to their intelligence agencies before they are encrypted, or, most likely, oblige them to provide backdoors to encrypted communications on their systems.
According to the government, the push for more surveillance is meant to shore up its defenses against crime, terrorism, and pedophilia. That may be true, but we’ve heard that excuse for excessive surveillance one too many times. Regardless, there are many inconsistencies in this view.
One can easily guess that serious offenders tend to avoid popular messaging platforms – especially ones that have been marred in quite a few privacy scandals and leaks – and opt for other, widely available and more secure apps.
Second, enforcing a backdoor creates an inherent weakness in the system that hackers can exploit. Tyrannical governments could also exploit the vulnerability to stifle dissent.
And the cherry on top in this scenario is the fact that governments aren’t exactly paragons of web security. We’ve heard of many instances where hackers were able to siphon data out of government entities.
The protest letter was sent by a digital rights organization called Access Now. It begins:
“The undersigned domestic and international organizations and experts write today to urge you to protect Australia’s cybersecurity. Specifically, we ask you not to pursue legislation that would undermine tools, policies, and technologies critical to protecting individual rights, safeguarding the economy, and providing security both in Australia and around the world.”