My Health Record justifications 'kind of lame': Godwin

Australia has spent billions of dollars for 'nothing really useful', according to leading internet policy commentator Mike Godwin, and the proposed anti-encryption laws are 'inhumane, wrong, anti-democratic'.

Lawyer and writer Mike Godwin is one of America's most prominent commentators on digital policy. Recently, he spent more than a month researching Australia's controversial My Health Record and its background. He didn't like what he found.

"The benefits are not clear. On the one hand, it seems to be billions of Australian dollars spent for nothing really useful, and on the other hand it seems very privacy invasive," Godwin told ZDNet last week.

"If you don't want anyone associated with any healthcare organisation you ever connect to, or with government generally, looking at your health records over some long period of time, you ought to opt out now."

Godwin thinks the government has done "a very poor job" of justifying My Health Record. In the last couple of months of the opt-out window, at least, it's been trying to "propagandise" for the centralised digital health record system.

"Honestly, from my perspective, even the best-case stories of My Health Record are kind of lame," he said.

"If everybody had to carry around a shopping cart full of their health records for every visit to the doctor then you might have a case, but that doesn't seem to be a problem for most Australians."

Godwin summarised his research in a 2200-word article for Slate in August.

"If you want the tl;dr version of it, it's 'Don't sign up. Opt out.' If you forget everything else I've said here, just opt out. You can opt in later, but you need to opt out now before November 15."

Democracies rely on 'limits to what government can do'

Godwin has also been tracking the progress of the Assistance and Access Bill, the Australian government's proposed legislation to tackle the problems that end-to-end encrypted messaging are posing for law enforcement.

The government has been eager to hose down concerns that the new laws would force vendors to build backdoors into encrypted communications. But some experts say it merely relocates the backdoors, and a new coalition of industry, technology, and human rights groups has formed to fight the legislation.

Godwin says the government does understand the concerns, which is why the legislation is written the way it is.

"The government actually is aware that if they said outright what they really want, that you wouldn't like it. And so what they do is, they've mushed it up a little bit by saying we're not going to mandate stuff. We're not going to require Apple or Samsung to build in insecurity, except that we maybe will," he said.

"If you read through the legislation, you find that the exceptions eat the rule, eat the declared good intent."

According to Godwin, there's nothing new here in the governmental push for more power, but that the digital world has changed the balance.

"For almost all of human history, it's been impossible for governments or police agencies to know everything that was happening with you privately. If you wanted to have a private conversation with your mate, you would just walk down the road and be out of earshot ... if you didn't want to be seen talking to him, you could walk around the bend of the road so you were not visible.

"But now, because so much of our lives is digital and online, that is a real treasure trove, potentially not just for police agencies but also for any government administrative agency, for intelligence agencies. They want to build that snooper ability into your devices, and that seems inhumane, wrong, anti-democratic," he said.

"The nature of democracies is that they rely on the idea of limits to what government can do, and you can't abandon that. You have to stick with that, even if it's uncomfortable, because you can't capture every bad guy because you can break into his iPhone."

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