Bail conditions for arrested Australian activists demand the impossible: no use of encrypted apps
from encryption-in-the-nether-country department
The Australian government doesn’t care much about encryption. He has, for years, tried to legislate encryption out of the picture. A law passed in 2018 gives the government the power to compel tech companies to break encryption.
The law survived a cursory review by the Joint Parliamentary Committee. Its 2021 report said the law was completely legal. And, while he found oversight of the new encryption powers to be inadequate, the law was a good thing for the government. Very little has been said about who is affected by the law or what tech companies are being forced to make their offerings less secure in Australia.
According to Australian law enforcement, the only people who need encrypted services and devices are criminals. And that’s why suspected criminals (who have only been charged with crimes at this point) are being forced to give up their access to encrypted services, as Ariel Bogle reports for ABC (the Australian) News.
Since the end of June, Greg Rolles has had to present his computer and mobile phone to the police checkpoint on request, and communicate his passwords to them.
He is not allowed to use encrypted messaging apps, like Signal or WhatsApp. He can only have one cell phone.
And there’s a list of 38 people, many of them his friends, who he’s not allowed to associate with in any way – even another activist found out he liked a post about the social networks.
Rolles is said to be a member of the activist group Blockade Australia. The group is known to have engaged in highly disruptive protests. These often involve the immobilization of vehicles and equipment. And there were reportedly incidents where police officers (or at least the vehicles they were in) were allegedly attacked.
Thanks to a new anti-protest law, the government is able to deal harshly with even more innocuous protests. As this article detailing Blockade and its interaction with the new law notes, some members are facing 10-year prison terms. Others were arrested for vague violations like “planning to block traffic.”
Bail conditions are just as onerous. As noted above, arrested Blockade members have been banned from using encrypted messaging apps or associating with each other. A member found himself in violation of his bail conditions simply for sending a “thumbs up” emoji in response to a Facebook post from another member. (Bail breach charges were eventually dropped for this action, but it still involved the person being accosted by police, detained and booked.)
The restrictions placed on Rolle cut him off from Afghan residents to whom his church was providing aid. They communicated via WhatsApp, which is no longer an option for Rolle.
But it’s not just WhatsApp and Signal. Many applications (and Internet services) use encryption. And the bail conditions are vague enough to prevent Rolle and others like him from living nearly normal lives while out on bail.
Large swaths of the internet are encrypted, which simply means that information is converted into code to protect it from unwanted access. Applications ranging from online banking to streaming services are usually encrypted.
“Encryption is everywhere because it’s fundamental to keeping modern communications technology secure and functional,” said a spokesperson for Electronic Frontiers Australia.
“[That includes] basically any modern device, including laptops, cell phones, ATMs, TVs, PlayStations, and government websites such as myGov, Medicare, and Centrelink.
Bail conditions prohibit those arrested (who are not charged with crimes at this stage) from “possessing an encrypted media app/app”. This covers a lot of ground, especially since many sites providing services ranging from banking to streaming to newscasting prefer to route users through proprietary apps – apps that typically use encryption in some form or another one.
Even those who think the heart of the courts is in the right place – trying to prevent the planning of future protests that could be disruptive and/or violent – think these conditions go too far. Shopfront Youth Legal Center Chief Counsel (Jane Sanders) said it places a possibly unlawful restriction on the rights of people who have only been charged with criminal activity.
“To effectively shut down the right to political communication with these conditions seems extreme to me,” Ms. Sanders said.
Well, as they say, the end is the point. The government has already viewed encryption as a tool of criminals and terrorists. The passing of a law increasing penalties for protest-related activity was intended to deter dissent. These new bail conditions bring it home: speak out against the government and/or their favorite corporations and you can expect to see your life derailed, your communications severely restricted, and your bail terminated at any time.
Filed Under: australia, bail, bail conditions, blockade australia, encryption, greg rolles, protests