Charity status for Australian developer confirms surveillance-free messaging is a human right

Contradicting the recent Encryption Bill, government approval confirms that anonymous, private communications platforms are furthering the cause of human rights

Credit: ID 96204796 © M-sur | Dreamstime.com

Official recognition as a charity has given Australia-based privacy network Loki the confidence to take on additional developers who, the project’s cofounder says, are helping it expand the mobile capabilities of its globally adopted privacy tools.

Loki is a privacy toolkit built around an integrated private transaction network that runs across global Service Nodes that are “economically incentivised” through the mining of blockchain-based cryptocurrency called $LOKI.

The network, called Lokinet, includes a completely anonymous private messaging service called Loki Messenger and supports Service Node Apps (SNApps) that are being actively built by the global open-source community that has sprung up around the project.

Loki “has been global from the start,” cofounder and project lead Simon Harman told CSO Australia – noting that its team currently includes 12 Melbourne staff, five working in the US and Canada, and one in Russia – “and our investors and community are all over the world.”

The project’s focus on delivering anonymity and privacy, Harman said, [[xref:https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/digitalage/pages/digitalageindex.aspx

|reflected United Nations and other organisations’ recognition]] of privacy as a fundamental human right.

Its work in this area, therefore, lay at the core of the application for charity status, Harman explained. “We put forward a case where we thought we were eligible for charity status because our work with the provision of privacy tools met several criteria under the Charities Act,” which acknowledges the protection of human rights as a “charitable purpose”.

Registration as a charity, he said, was always in the organisation’s plan and Constitution, which defines its core activities including facilitating the development of an “open source, highly secure, decentralised data transmission network that allows individuals, business and government to freely transact and communicate without the threat of malicious third party interference”.

The Constitution also delineates roles such as the funding of independent development projects, education and support to developers, funding its activities through the $LOKI offering, and “ensuring the open source network is developed as a genuinely decentralised system absent any external control or influence.”

That objective may prove increasingly complex as the Australian government moves to pass “dangerously ambiguous” legislation to assert its control and influence over the use of secure private messaging tools, much to the concern of developers like Signal that say they couldn’t intercept messages even if they wanted to.

Harman, for one, is sceptical that the law will ever get off the ground: “I don’t think it can be applied to encryption because it would substantiate a systemic weakness in contradiction of its own definition” that states the law is not designed to force creation of systemic weaknesses.

“I just don’t think the Australian government alone is going to be able to compel the likes of WhatsApp, Signal, and others to do anything for anyone,” he added, arguing that “there was definitely a misunderstanding about what they were legislating”.

Whatever the outcome of that legislation, Harman believes Loki’s newfound charity status has increased its credibility and allowed it to redirect funding to bringing on more developers – accelerating the further development of the project’s tools and furthering its overall mission to educate the public about the value of truly private communications.

Loki is based on an ephemeral public-key architecture that allows users to reach each other without having to use ‘out-of-band’ real-world identifiers such as mobile phone numbers – providing real anonymity that, Harman says, will continue to sit at the core of what the foundation stands for.

“The ultimate goal of the Loki Messenger is to enable people to speak,” he said, “by routing private messages using end-to-end encryption through a base framework. This has become critically important, especially as we move into a state where all of our information is constantly available and privacy is only going in the one direction.”

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