​Australia needs stronger analytics, not weaker encryption

As Australia released its long awaited Cyber Security Strategy, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that modern encryption poses difficulties for law enforcement, a curious complaint for a nation that has legal access to troves of metadata.

However, complaints over encryption are not isolated to the Aussie PM alone. We are having this same discussion around the world, as law enforcement agencies argue that they should be given "exceptional access" to data.

Not only is the discussion a global one, but it is one that we have already debated.

In 1993, the US government proposed the Clipper Chip, an encryption device with a built-in backdoor that it wanted telecommunications providers to adopt. The rationale behind such a chip is the same that is being given today: aiding law enforcement.

In the two decades that the IT security industry collectively sank Clipper, there has been no sudden rise in any form of technology that has rendered law enforcement incapable of doing their jobs. Much to their credit, law enforcement organisations adapted, using evidence legally obtained and without the need to violate civil liberties.

However, the debate has returned and this week, RSA testified in a US House of Representatives hearing titled "Deciphering the Debate Over Encryption: Industry and Law Enforcement Perspectives". The world has changed since 1993, but today we have more unencrypted data available than ever before, and more metadata being generated that is legally within reach of law enforcement organisation.

With Australia having concluded its debate over how much metadata should be collected and stored and making it a legal requirement to collect, it is one nation in particular where its law enforcement organisations should be arguing the least for the degradation of encryption, or for exceptional access.

Even without Australia's legal advantage it is practically impossible to encrypt metadata as it is generated and used -- Many cloud service providers, who deliver rich analytics about anything from our fitness levels to who would be our best Tinder match must operate on unencrypted metadata, and it is on a per-provider basis as to the extent of which they cooperate with law enforcement when giving up this information.

Rather than asking for exceptional access, law enforcement organisations should be making greater use of the information already at their disposal. At the hearing, Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell held our view as he testified "We see a data-rich world that seems to be full of information. Information that law enforcement can use to solve - and prevent - crimes."

The current situation that Australian law enforcement sees itself in today is one where there are more vulnerabilities in software and hardware, more information that they can data mine, more complexity through which to exploit loopholes, all while having the legal power to obtain even more metadata from service providers. Just as the businesses we help protect have taken a more mature approach to analysing their own network traffic and metadata to quickly identify incoming threats, we would expect our top law enforcement organisations know how to do so on the huge amount of resources available to them legally.

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