MY SAY: Cracking the case online poses big privacy issues

IN THE past month, United States and United Kingdom enforcement agencies have argued in criminal trials that either the accused or the accused device manufacturer must provide the keys (passwords) to unlock or decrypt devices and files.

I have little doubt that it happens here as well, albeit in a less publicised way.

First, that our enforcement and security agencies cannot break into devices seized from those they arrest, and second, that they need the assistance from a court to do so. Libertarians are calling it the end of digital privacy if courts favour the call to crack.

Enforcement and security agencies argue that when legislation was introduced to say that they could lawfully intercept and crack, they had the ability to do so - now they don't have that ability because technology (and their most wanted) are one step ahead.

The challenge for our constabulary is that the ability to encrypt today in a way that befuddles law enforcement is child's play.

I think this is the game changer that will continue to be the battleground for years to come, and the recent court cases from abroad are just some early signs of more to follow.

All is not lost. Enforcement agencies in Australia do have the power to compel.

We have enforcement agencies with the powers of a standing Royal Commission, where the right to silence doesn't exist and any contortion of the truth is equally not tolerated. Pursuing these courses of action for a suspect would have them bounce their way to jail.

It's hard to see where all of this will end.

Consumers are increasingly cherishing anonymity, not because they do wrong, but because they don't want wrong to be done to them.

Enforcement agencies are almost entirely dependent on lines of enquiry that take them online.

I remember giving a community presentation last year arguing that pubs and clubs have no need to collect digital copies of drivers' licences.

In doing so, these organisations are putting their patrons and themselves at great risk.

Some local constabulary were in attendance at the time, and one was quite annoyed that I would suggest such a thing because the scanned images were so valuable for their investigations.

I remember him saying that these images are what "cracks the case." Therein lies the challenge - the tension between responding to criminal use of technology, and the dependence investigations have on collecting evidence from technology.

I recently spent some time with the FBI. Despite them featuring in a recent court case with Apple over cracking the San Bernardino terrorists' iPhone, the agency for the most part is striving to find the balance.

One of my concerns is that enforcement agencies have lived over the past 20 years in an environment that has in some ways blunted traditional investigative skills - where password cracking and decryption was much easier than it is today.

I think the next 20 years is going to require our enforcement agencies to maximise what technology can offer, but also draw back on methods and techniques that have succeeded over time immemorial - something the FBI for the most part places at the core of its priorities.

Dr David Lacey is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast and Director of IDCARE.

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