Member for Isaacs

ABC TV Lateline 4 June 2015

04 June 2015

SUBJECTS: Encryption.











SUBJECTS: Encryption.


JONES: Well we asked the Attorney-General George Brandis to join us tonight. He was unavailable. The Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus did oblige and I spoke to him a bit earlier.

DREYFUS: Good to be with you, Tony.

JONES: Now, where do you stand on these crypto wars? Should access to privacy through secure encryption for online communications be a basic right for all internet users?

DREYFUS: I stand for strong encryption, Tony, but I think we all realise we're grappling with new technologies, and consequently, it's thrown up new challenges, but underneath, it's an old problem, and that's the balance between protecting personal liberties and the right for our community to be safe. It's an old problem. I'm confident that we can get to new solutions for it here.

JONES: Well, the UN Human Rights Commission has just concluded that encryption and anonymity deserves strong protections because, "They enable," - I'll just quote here: "They enable individuals to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age." Now that's a statement of principle.


JONES: Do you have a statement of principle? Does Labor have a statement of principle on this issue?

DREYFUS: Very much that privacy is to be protected. That's why we strengthened the Privacy Act while we were in office. That's why we're committed to making sure at all times in this area of what powers should go to police, what powers should go to law enforcement agencies, what powers should go to intelligence agencies, there's protection of privacy. But, equally, I don't think we can go past the fact that there will be circumstances, there will be particular circumstances, where everybody in the community I think would want our police, our intelligence agencies, to have access. That's the balance.

JONES: OK, well here's - this is also where it gets really tricky because the debate, as you know, is quite a hot one in the United States and in the UK, where Prime Minister David Cameron has introduced the Investigatory Powers Act, which will require, or would seek to require Facebook and Google and other internet service providers of that nature to decrypt messages from their users and deliver them to the police, to decrypt them before giving them to police. Would you oppose similar legislation if it were introduced in Australia?

DREYFUS: I think that what we will need to look at is what safeguards are put around it, what protections of privacy is put around it, what are the particular circumstances in which police and law enforcement agencies are going to be authorised to go in and say to a telecommunications company, "This is our purpose and we'd like you to assist us with de-encryption." It's equally ...

JONES: So de-encryption is a kind of possibility in your mind, is it? When you think about it, you think it's possible the police could get such powers?

DREYFUS: Well I think that we want to know - and this is why I said to you right at the start that I favour strong encryption - everybody wants to know that when they're using their phones, when they're using computers, those communications are private, that they're not going to be able to be got at by scammers or by commercial interests that are seeking to use what is private and personal data, that they're not going to be overheard. But at the same time, these are important tools for keeping our community safe. We already have police and law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies with powers to seek access to telecommunications data, to seek to have surveillance on actual phone conversations and content on the internet.

JONES: Sure, but this would be very new, this'd be quite different. It's a new area completely.

DREYFUS: Sure. And that's because we're grappling with these new technologies. It's really important that when we come to legislating in Australia on this topic, as they're now having a much bigger debate than we've had yet in Australia - they've had a much bigger debate in the United States, much bigger debate in the United Kingdom. We have to have the same debate here because the kinds of values, the personal liberties, personal privacy that are valued in the United States, valued in the United Kingdom, are also valued by Australians and we have to get their too.

JONES: OK. Alright. So you know then - you've obviously seen the debate in the United States. The Snowden revelations have shaken some of these big internet companies to their core. So the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, made a very passionate speech recently about this. He calls it the "battle over encryption" and he says some in Washington are seeking to undermine the ability of ordinary citizens to encrypt their data. This can be incredibly dangerous, he says. And so I'm just wondering: in the United States, it's going to be very hard, by the look of it, to turn the tide back, but in Britain, they're trying to. Do you think they'll try to in Australia?

DREYFUS: They've certainly had a different debate in the United States and I think it's important for Australians and people following this debate to realise that the American Government with the Patriot Act went down a quite different route with data retention than we have here in Australia. They opted for the Government collecting huge volumes of data from telecommunications companies and the Government storing it. We've gone down a different route, which is a requirement that the telcos keep that data for a two-year period. And now, in legislation passed just in the last few days, the American Congress has gone down that route as well. And what the government storage model gave rise to was tremendous fears about what people called - what people were referring to as mass surveillance. That's not something that's possible under Australian legislation. We're leaving the data with - the data retention regime with the telcos.

JONES: No, but I'm - we're sort of running out of time, so I'm just gonna interrupt you there. I mean, what the CEO of Apple is saying is that American consumers of the internet have rights to complete privacy and rights to encryption and that they're actually gonna do end-to-end encryption so that it will be the consumers themselves who do the encryption, so the company'd have no say in this. That's gonna challenge what the police want. Do you think the police should have powers to overcome that?

DREYFUS: It is. I think it's not a simple question of saying who should have powers, it's a much more difficult question which the telecommunication companies are going to have to work with government, work with law enforcement agencies to work out what's possible to give strong encryption, maximum protection of privacy, but I think it's necessary to leave open the possibility that for particular circumstances to investigate particularly serious crimes, there should be some possibility if the technology is there for police and intelligence agencies to seek that access.

JONES: Mark Dreyfus, we'll have to leave you there. Thank you very much for coming in to join us.

DREYFUS: Thanks very much, Tony.