Firstly, a quick apology from Australia: we’re sorry. Look, our Prime Minister and Attorney General didn’t try to launch us onto the World Encryption Comedy Stage but unfortunately, here we are.
This all stems from our government (like so many others), deciding that nasty people hide nasty discussions via encrypted chat and that it would be enormously useful for law enforcement to be able to see those discussions. No arguments there from a “protect the people” perspective, the problem, as always, is how you do that without simultaneously jeopardising the people. When it was put to our PM that the laws of mathematics don’t really provide for “good guys” to intercept communications whilst still protecting our messages from “bad guys” out, he took a rather “unique” stance:
Well, the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable but the only laws that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.
I’m sorry. On behalf of all of down here, we really didn’t want our elected representative to put us on the world stage this way. But it didn’t stop there either…
Not to be left off the World Encryption Comedy Stage, our Attorney General decided to get in on the act with a zinger of his own. Now, before I relay his message, if you’re not already familiar with George Brandis it’s worth a quick watch of his previous hit, Here’s What Metadata Is. (I’ve already apologised on behalf of Australia, right?) Anyway, when questioned about the feasibility of reading messages sent by platforms implementing end to end encryption such as WhatsApp and Signal, George had an answer ready:
Last Wednesday I met with the chief cryptographer at GCHQ ... And he assured me that this was feasible.
Now I wasn’t in that chat, but I’ll take a stab at it and say that this was (almost certainly) not what was said by anyone with a title that includes the word “cryptography”. It’s entirely possible the bloke said something more along the lines of “we have other techniques to gain access to messages on devices” which would be just fine, but that’s obviously not the way our AG heard it nor is it what we’re now seeing in headlines around the world. (Incidentally, in the same week the former head of the GCHQ made it very clear that “encryption is overwhelming a good thing” and that you can’t “uninvent” it nor “legislate it away.)
Look, we’ve got to do a better job of monitoring the communications of nasty people because let’s face it, they’ve never had it so good when it comes to hiding evil conversations. But please, for the love of god, can we stop the politicians from jumping up and making comments like this about something that is complex beyond their comprehension?