The Assistance and Access Bill 2018, better known as the Ass Access Bill, is a piece of legislation before the Australian Parliament that proposes to provide a way for the Australian Government to gain access to data that has previously been hidden by encryption. This is intended to provide law enforcement and other agencies a doorway into your private data. The department of Home Affairs have gone to great pains to emphasise that this is not a legislated backdoor to your devices, and they are technically correct. It is probably better described as a side door into your data.
The new Ass Access laws will target communications providers, device makers and software companies to provide a framework for government agencies to force these companies to disclose the encryption mechanisms protecting the privacy of data. Instead of building a back-door into people’s gadgets, the legislation is targeting the points at which communications are decrypted. For example in WhatsApp’s case they would target the software company itself and request to be able to view the communications as it is decrypted and viewed by the recipient. Communications isn’t the only data being targeted either, GPS and cell tower based location information is also covered in the legislation.
In 2016 the inability of the FBI to access an iPhone made worldwide headlines. The Australian Federal Governments ASS Access Bill 2018 will ensure this situation will not happen here. In fact, many are saying that if this legislation is successfully adopted here it will become the benchmark for legislation of this type, which may lead to something similar being rolled out around the world.
The legislation has been in the works for the past two years, yet the government only provided 4 weeks for public comment and unfortunately this period ended on September 10, 2018. With the window of public consultation over the only one way left for people to voice their concerns is during the next election. Making this issue a hot button topic might convince one party to oppose this Bill and make it a point of differentiation during the election, making it a vote winner. There are however a lot of if’s involved here.
But perhaps the time of individual privacy is over? Is this an issue that people are even concerned about anymore? Is the real solution instead to apply this level of transparency across the board and apply these same rules to the government itself? If individual privacy is a thing of the past should institutional privacy also be a thing of the past? Should we look to strengthen the freedom of information act so that all information collected by the government can be made available under the right circumstances? As always, your voice and your vote are the most powerful tools in times such as these so be sure to use both enthusiastically, make that wheel squeak.