Australia: plotting against internet privacy

Australia has lost the plot over internet privacy issues, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is leading the charge to demonstrate wilful ignorance of basic internet principles. Even worse, Australian leaders including the ASIO chief and the Police Commissioner, are now also piling on in an attempt to force platforms to allow increased government surveillance and allow authorities to allow access and collection of users’ private communications. It was ever so, since the earliest days of the internet.

Use of cryptography to preserve privacy of electronic communications is supporting a crucial principle of the internet. Governments have always attacked it, because the ability to break encrypted communications will give it power over citizens who are politically threatening, and Governments are always looking to consolidate and increase their powers. That a democracy, Australia, is rushing to increase surveillance over its own citizens, and even attempt to create world-wide censorship, is a sad indictment of it in the current era of ascendant authoritarian governance. A Labour Government is doing this? And is using shameful rhetoric to try and get its way?

The Prime Minister, along with top officials, is using the most inflammatory language to leverage recent tragic stabbing incidents in Sydney. This is apparently an effort to try and sway public option towards giving up hard won freedoms of the internet.

I don’t agree with half of what Elon Musk says, but in the case of the latest row with the Australian eSafety commissioner over taking down harrowing video of one of the events, he is there and he is right. X has removed the video from the Australian platform, but is resisting a court based challenge to remove the material world-wide. Musk is steeped in good old American libertarian values, which strongly inform the principles which made the internet strong and free. He is correct in saying that X is now leading the charge to preserve those values, which unfortunately involve trade-offs and knowledge of history of the technology that Albanese apparently has never bothered to study. Albanese appears completely captured by censorship enthusiasts and law enforcement hard-liners, a huge fault in a politician charged with ensuring democracy prevails.


“We’ll do what’s necessary to take on this arrogant billionaire who thinks he’s above the law, but also above common decency. The idea that someone would go to court for the right to put up violent content on a platform shows how out-of-touch Mr Musk is.”

Albanese is showing himself to be an arrogant politician who thinks he can manipulate the law to roll back free speech and news protections, and also lacks the common decency to refrain from using recent tragic stabbing events, real events that are sadly legitimately news, to attack internet freedoms. This is the same man who has failed to fight to return Julian Assange to Australia, so that the US is currently probably going to have to bow to non-existent pressure from Australia and return him anyway. Time has clearly shown most people, including Americans, that Assange was telling the truth and was victimised for it.

That is the risk of the actions that Albanese is so keen to take in attacking internet freedoms, that is, that he is likely to chase down legitimately politically active citizens of his own country who are cut from the same cloth as that really bad billionaire, Elon Musk. And then he might come for you, or me.

Mike Burgess, ASIO chief:

“If the threats, evidence, safeguards and oversight are strong enough to obtain a warrant, then they should be strong enough for us for the companies to help us give effect to that warrant.”

Mr Burgess must know that violent criminals and political extremists are always trying to be one step ahead of law enforcement, and will move platforms to that effect. What is left on the exisiting platforms for the security apparatus to spy on, is its own citizens.

Australian police Commissioner Reece Kershaw:

“There is no absolute right to privacy.”

What does that even mean? Privacy means that no-one has the right to eavesdrop. That includes you, Commissioner. Otherwise, it’s not privacy, it’s always looking over your shoulder, wondering who is reading your emails, tracking your online actions, deciding whether you are a criminal or perceived extremist. The right to privacy is a key founding principle of the internet. It exists, it is accepted by global users, and it must be defended.

Albanese should stop Australia making an international fool of itself by suggesting hair-raisingly naive solutions to problems that are complex. Yes, there is always a need to protect children and to stop violent extremists, but that process needs to acknowledge the freedoms that must remain if democracy is to continue to flourish.