On June 12, Leader of the Opposition in Australia, Bill Shorten, spoke to the House of Representatives about Bitcoin and encryption. Similar to other government-related discussions involving either topic, his argument called for government intervention.
Shorten’s speech followed the direction of the opinions shared by the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Cybersecurity, Dan Tehan. Tehan voiced his recent concerns regarding possible illegal use of the internet. He wanted the government to force ISPs to provide network-level support in conjunction with the government’s increased monitoring for threats.
“Just as we trust banks to hold our money, just as we trust doctors with our health, in a digital age we need to be able to trust telecommunications companies to protect our information from threats,” Tehan wrote.
Shorten’s push against Bitcoin and encryption conveyed a more invasive message. And in doing so, followed Australia’s plan to “encourage” technology companies to build backdoors into services and programs. His argument for increased government involvement was similar to the UK Conservative Party’s argument for software backdoors—terrorism.
Shorten really used two arguments to reinforce his plan: terrorism and the government’s lack of understanding when it comes to the darknet, Bitcoin, and encryption. “We need to track and target terrorists as they seek to hide and obscure their financial dealings through electronic currencies like bitcoin,” he explained.
And in reference to the unknown:
“There are two things we simply do not know enough about to deal with properly—I refer to the use of the digital currency bitcoin and the use of the dark web, a network of untraceable online activities and hidden websites, allowing those who wish to stay in the shadows to remain hidden.”
The move to implement government entry points (backdoors) into software is not a new one in Australia. The Register reported that politicians like Shorten pushed this government intervention model in an effort to show the Opposition party’s strong stance towards national security. Incidentally, Australia recently became one of the worst places to ship drugs.
The UK Home Secretary said that there must be “no place for terrorists to hide.” Shorten used strikingly similar phrasing in his speech:
“We must target this threat head-on. As terrorists adapt their methods and seek to hide online, we must ensure our agencies have the tools, resources and technology so terrorism has no place to hide. We can allow them no sanctuary, no place to rest – we must dislodge them from wherever they hide.”
While knowledge of the dark web and package interception may be two completely different areas of expertise, the Australian Border Force said otherwise. ABF Chief Roman Quaedvlieg said that they “had significant intelligence holdings engaged to darknet sites.” He said that partner agencies did too. And that is far from the only disconnect between law enforcement and politicians.
Tehan previously explained that the government would improve their ability to monitor internet activity “to detect unusual activity and stop it in its tracks.” The Australian public protested censorship in the past, and not without reason. Fully adopting the UK’s vision of government-only backdoors could cause a similar opposition.