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What Have Encryption Laws Got to do With the Social Sector?


5 December 2018 at 5:18 pm
Maggie Coggan
Digital rights activists warn the implications of the federal government’s encryption bill will need to be closely watched by social sector organisations, who may be open to law enforcement agencies tapping their phones and accessing their information.


Maggie Coggan | 5 December 2018 at 5:18 pm


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What Have Encryption Laws Got to do With the Social Sector?
5 December 2018 at 5:18 pm

Digital rights activists warn the implications of the federal government’s encryption bill will need to be closely watched by social sector organisations, who may be open to law enforcement agencies tapping their phones and accessing their information.

Laws allowing police and intelligence agencies to intercept encrypted messages are expected to pass federal Parliament this week, with Labor and the Coalition government striking a deal on Tuesday night.  

Labor’s approved changes include an ongoing committee process into 2019, and assurances that interception powers could only be used for serious offences like terrorism, sex offences, drug and gun crimes.  

Lizzie O’Shea, founding board member of the Digital Rights Watch (DRW), told Pro Bono News the changes were cautiously welcomed by the DRW, but the social sector needed to pay attention to what happened next, because the new laws would definitely affect them.

She said any social service organisation that dealt with people who might have committed an offence would be open to law enforcement agencies gaining all sorts of information.

Lots of different social service providers might come into contact with someone involved in a serious criminal offence, who’s seeking help from them,” O’Shea said.

“It is then open to law enforcement agencies to gain access to the information they need to be able to pursue those offenses, like installing spyware or tapping into phones that belong to social service providers. There’s no limit on how these powers might be used.”

She also said large Australian databases which store personal and private information like the NDIS were at a higher risk of being hacked, similarly to the WannaCry ransomware attack, which led to hackers gaining access to the UK National Health Service.      

“That attack was the result of the National Security Agency finding a weakness in Microsoft software that it exploited for intelligence purposes, and didn’t disclose to Microsoft itself until that tool went missing or was stolen by hackers,” she said.

She said any kind of technology issue that affects people’s rights was something that the social sector had to pay attention to, and it shouldn’t assume it won’t affect their organisation.

“We can’t just assume that these issues don’t apply to them because every kind of social sector organisation that’s providing services is probably using technology in some format.”

She said it was important the sector not only kept their heads up to what was happening but also made their voices heard.

“The more people we have talking about how widespread and significant this issue is the better chance we have at trying to resist the worst excesses of it,” she said.


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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