February 24, 2024

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Is the Assistance and Access Bill a threat to open-source?

Open-source browser creator pens a letter to the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on 12 October 2018. The company describes itself as an “international, mission-driven organisation that develops tools that empower individuals on the internet”.

Its contents detail contentions with the country’s draft Assistance and Access Bill. This will be third major industry player voicing its concerns. OpenGov Asia previously reported on the two US-based MNCs lines of contention. The open-source web browser’s complaints aren’t a far cry. Industry freedom to innovate and market products are its key concerns. The opening of the letter underscores the necessity of a laissez faire internet. It reads, “Any measure that allows a government to dictate the design of internet systems represents a significant risk to the security, stability, and trust of those systems.”

Main lines of contention lie with the three new authorities responsible for investigative and intelligence activities. Namely, the Technical Assistance Request (TAR), the Technical Assistance Notice (TAN), and the Technical Capability Notice (TCN). As the names suggest, each request the communications providers to assist Australia’s authorities on a voluntary basis in the form of providing information of identified consumers (TAR) and lending technical expertise (TAN). Under the provisions by the Attorney-General, TCN requires developing new capabilities in anticipation of a future TAR or TAN. They believe these, TCN in particular, will significantly weaken the security of the internet.

TCN Interpretation Too Open

The first bone picked is the “[in]sufficient limitations on the scope of potential requests to mitigate the challenges associated with these new powers”.

Although a detailed bill will suffocate, the company notes the current looseness implies that only those who have been identified to make judgements are allowed to determine a course of action. In the case of TCN, relevant ministries will be by-passed and only the Attorney-General will be consulted. Furthermore, it is unclear what capabilities are requested by TCNs.

Vagueness in the law will cause compliance issues down the road. A vendor is unlikely to pay heed to the law and subsequent technological developments might differ from what the Australian government had initially assumed to have expected.

Additionally, derived from their own interpretation of the bill, TCN would imply that a single vendor would be single-handedly responsible for developing a capability because of the secrecy demanded. Based on the ethos of open-source, the company believes such a methodology “contravenes the criteria we have established to make our development processes effective. Consequently, this risks making the output of our development less secure…” Compliance to the fullness of the law necessitates collaboration with other companies for their core development.

TCN “An Intentional Introduction of Vulnerability”

Should TCN become law, the company is concerned vulnerabilities will be introduced, wrecking widespread user and system insecurity. System compromises are bound to happen by authorising personnel outside of the organisation. The result is fragile trust with a customer.

Section 317E of the law is too broad, they claim. The letter reads, “under 317E(1)(e)(iii), a TCN could be used to cause the vendor of a traffic or weather information application to extract information from a messaging application. The definitions of what can be requested dangerously lacks clarity.”

Once the law kicks in, users of software might be disinclined to run a software update for fear of infringement of privacy. The overall consequence is highly vulnerable systems and exponential attacks.

Even if clarifications are made, the company says, “we don’t believe this to be an adequate safeguard”.

Cyberworld War?

The bill makes extraterritorial provisions in law. According to the company, these will push costs up and make compliance more complex for the entire industry. Industry players will become the losers as user expectations and trust are at risk.

Greater details must be substantiated to feasibly bound only companies which have operations in Australia.

Similar to US-based technology infrastructure company, the open-source web company believes if Australia is successful in passing the bill, it will set a precedent for the international community. In turn, attaching similar sets of problems the industry and governments may not be ready to resolve.

More Bad Things

What’s worse, the company thinks the lack of liberty for technology companies to voice out against requests “make cost and risk mitigation hard in practice”. Under the bill, vendors lack an avenue for appeal or objection, are sworn under secrecy, and can be compelled to cover up weaknesses they have introduced – things that would rub an open-source company the wrong way.

They have also urged the Australian authorities to better define “systemic”. The current ambiguity could lead to unintentional exploitation by the government or “a fast-path method to [compromise a] user’s data” which will lead to compromise by malicious actors.

Six other matters of consideration have been raised. However, the company says this list is not exhaustive.

Ending, the company says, “We ask Australia to join us in strengthening the security of the Internet, not weaken it.”

PARTNER

Qlik’s vision is a data-literate world, where everyone can use data and analytics to improve decision-making and solve their most challenging problems. A private company, Qlik offers real-time data integration and analytics solutions, powered by Qlik Cloud, to close the gaps between data, insights and action. By transforming data into Active Intelligence, businesses can drive better decisions, improve revenue and profitability, and optimize customer relationships. Qlik serves more than 38,000 active customers in over 100 countries.

PARTNER

CTC Global Singapore, a premier end-to-end IT solutions provider, is a fully owned subsidiary of ITOCHU Techno-Solutions Corporation (CTC) and ITOCHU Corporation.

Since 1972, CTC has established itself as one of the country’s top IT solutions providers. With 50 years of experience, headed by an experienced management team and staffed by over 200 qualified IT professionals, we support organizations with integrated IT solutions expertise in Autonomous IT, Cyber Security, Digital Transformation, Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure, Workplace Modernization and Professional Services.

Well-known for our strengths in system integration and consultation, CTC Global proves to be the preferred IT outsourcing destination for organizations all over Singapore today.

PARTNER

Planview has one mission: to build the future of connected work. Our solutions enable organizations to connect the business from ideas to impact, empowering companies to accelerate the achievement of what matters most. Planview’s full spectrum of Portfolio Management and Work Management solutions creates an organizational focus on the strategic outcomes that matter and empowers teams to deliver their best work, no matter how they work. The comprehensive Planview platform and enterprise success model enables customers to deliver innovative, competitive products, services, and customer experiences. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, with locations around the world, Planview has more than 1,300 employees supporting 4,500 customers and 2.6 million users worldwide. For more information, visit www.planview.com.

SUPPORTING ORGANISATION

SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

PARTNER

HashiCorp provides infrastructure automation software for multi-cloud environments, enabling enterprises to unlock a common cloud operating model to provision, secure, connect, and run any application on any infrastructure. HashiCorp tools allow organizations to deliver applications faster by helping enterprises transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices. 

PARTNER

IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider. We help clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently and securely. IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity and service.

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