Shorten labels disruptive technologies as genuine national security threats

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has said it is important that security agencies counter the use of online attacks and 3D printers.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

While calling for the Australian Parliament to avoid being a forum of fearmongering, Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has issued a warning on the use of 3D printers, bomb-making instructions being available on the internet, and cyber attacks.

"We live in an era where disruptive technologies present genuine threats to our national security," Shorten told Parliament on Tuesday afternoon in his National Security Statement reply.

Shorten warned of individuals and organisations that were embracing inexpensive technology to conduct nefarious activities.

"Countering the rapid adoption of emerging low-cost technologies, such as drones and cyber attacks, will be increasingly important," he said.

"Our treaties, conventions, and export controls need to reflect that we live in a time when bomb-making instructions can be easily found on the internet and 3D printing is common."

The Opposition Leader said that in response to these threats, the national security agencies must be innovative and adaptable, and called on the government to restore funding first cut in the 2014 federal budget.

"If we're not in the business of creating new ideas and quickly turning new ideas into new technologies, the ADF [Australian Defence Force] will become slower to respond and less effective over time," Shorten said.

"Now is not the time to be making funding cuts to important organisations like the Defence Science and Technology Group."

Last week, the NSW government amended its Firearms Act to make possession of digital blueprints for the manufacture of firearms on 3D printers or electronic milling machines an offence.

The new offence carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

Shorten's response came after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull delivered his National Security Statement where he said encryption was a challenge to the nation's spy agencies.

"Rapid developments in communications technology present both opportunities and challenges for our agencies; modern messaging and voice applications are generally encrypted in transit," Turnbull said.

"Human intelligence, relationships with communities, are more important than ever. I have therefore asked that ASIO and other relevant agencies work with our international intelligence partners to address the challenge of monitoring terrorist groups in this new environment."

Australians were warned this week to expect a reduction in privacy in the near future, as Attorney-General George Brandis said citizens may have to "calibrate their attitudes" regarding privacy.

"There will be occasions in which we will have to accept greater limitations, greater impediments to personal privacy," he said.

When asked if Labor was supportive of such a restriction, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told ZDNet that Labor has consistently worked in a constructive, bipartisan manner with the government on laws concerning national security.

"Labor supports our police forces and security agencies having the powers they need to deal with the threat of terror," Dreyfus said.

"We have worked hard to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect basic rights and freedoms, including privacy. It's important that we get the balance right."

Co-deputy Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Scott Ludlam said to ZDNet there is no evidence that mass surveillance of citizens has helped prevent an attack, or made a community safer.

"If such evidence existed, the Attorney General's relentless pursuit of more intrusive surveillance powers over the whole population would be understandable. But the evidence doesn't exist, from the United States or anywhere else," Ludlam said

"Targeted surveillance and disruption of violent terror networks is essential. Untargeted surveillance of civilian populations is pointless.

"This is the 'calibration' that could usefully be done by those in the Attorney General's department whose first reflex after any tragedy is for more mass surveillance."

Under Brandis' tenure as Attorney-General, Australia passed legislation that mandated the collection and storage of call records, assigned IP addresses, location information, billing information, and other customer data stored for two years for warrantless access by law enforcement.

Despite the data retention laws coming into force last month, Telstra revealed in October that it is likely one of very few telcos to have its plan for data retention implementation approved, which will take 18 months to execute.

An October survey released by the Communications Alliance found that 84 percent of Australian telcos would not be compliant with the deadline, and 37 percent of respondents revealed they were "not confident at all" on understanding what data the law requires them to retain and for how long.

Editorial standards