On December 6th of 2018, the Australian government raised eyebrows by rushing to pass a controversial anti-encryption bill that could negatively impact tech companies and their users around the globe. The ominous legislation, dubbed as the “Assistance and Access Act“, will mandate that any company or organization with website data being hosted on Australian soil must give authorities access to their information systems upon request.
Simply put, that means providing a backdoor to encryption in Australia that’s supposed to help law enforcement spy on suspects. In true Big Brother fashion, the Australian Government has decided that it hates being locked out of anything that’s been securely encrypted and is now forcing companies to help them hack their way into private accounts or even to implant malware. Stiff penalties and fines await any company that isn’t willing to cooperate.
The advent of end-to-end encryption has given people around the world both security and privacy when it comes to personal information and communication. Modern life is tethered to the internet, and we fear the good intentions of aiding law enforcement to access encrypted materials may inadvertently undermine online security and privacy with hacker-friendly loopholes that set a dangerous precedent in our digitally connected and increasingly global online community.
In a post 9/11 world, government agencies and law enforcement have complained that encryption prevents them from properly investigating or monitoring dangerous suspects or even preempting crime and terrorism. But Australia’s concessions against personal security in the name of spying on suspects all feels a little Orwellian in our view, and the invasion of personal privacy by any government is deeply troubling to us. Anyone paying attention to the nature of the latest Australian law can already tell it may be a slippery slope that allows the government to investigate private citizens with little accountability and for the pettiest of allegations. Golden Frog was born to fight questionable access to user data, and we take great exception to the idea that people’s personal information should be subject to monitoring by unmoderated arms of any government.
All of this begs the question: will giant multinational tech giants continue to host any data under Australian jurisdiction? What impact could that have on the Australian consumer and economy as a whole? Many tech companies have publicly signaled their displeasure with the legislation and may take the action of pulling up their stakes and relocating assets abroad to protect customer data from being compromised.
And because of the sheer global scale of most tech companies, ordering backdoors built into encryption in Australia could open a proverbial Pandora’s Box when it comes to the future of online privacy, as this is not a law with consequences that stop beyond Australia’s shores. Critics argue that there is simply no way to create tools to undermine encryption without jeopardizing digital security. There is no safeguard against potential hackers, who will be gifted hacking tools on a silver platter if companies are forced to provide back channels for the Australian government, and it may be enough to compromise networks around the world.
Additionally, any service, app or company found to be non-compliant with the new legislation could risk being blocked or heavily censored from use in the land Down Under (if they even want to continue doing business in Australia at all). Inevitably, when it comes to bypassing censorship, VPNs are usually called upon to access content that’s being firewalled off from the public by routing around any restrictions in place. And that’s a role we proudly play in the name of internet freedom.
The latest legislation in Australia also confirms the wisdom in why Golden Frog’s own VyprVPN maintains a No Log policy, meaning we do not record or retain any data when you use the VyprVPN Service. The less data we have then the less data can ever be at risk of falling into the hands of unwelcome third parties…which is the whole point of encryption in the first place.
Through it all Golden Frog has been an outspoken advocate for worldwide internet freedom, and we were originally founded in opposition to government surveillance. For this reason, we strongly urge all Australians to have their voice heard by their own country’s parliament, and to reach out to their representatives to let them know you stand in absolute opposition to the Assistance and Access Bill.
The future of internet privacy may depend upon the stand Australians take to protect themselves as their country now represents the frontlines of this global battle.