AustCyber to help cyber industry 'minimise economic impact' of encryption bill

Will provide advice so local cyber security companies can convince customers not to ditch them

The government funded not-for-profit tasked with growing the Australian cyber security sector – AustCyber – says it will work with businesses of all sizes to ensure the encryption bill is implemented “in a way that minimises the economic impact” upon them.

As part of that work it will issue a communications toolkit to help firms convince their customers, investors and supply chains about “the ongoing integrity and sustainability of Australia’s sovereign cyber security capabilities”.

The Australian technology sector has been broadly critical of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 which is intended to help police and national security agencies intercept and access encrypted communications.

Some industry leaders, such as Senetas founder Francis Galbally, have claimed the bill will “profoundly undermine” the reputation of Australian software and hardware manufacturers in international markets.

Others, like Australian electronics manufacturer Extel, have warned of billions in lost export revenue as a direct consequence of the legislation.

“We understand that some of our stakeholders are concerned about the impact of this proposed legislation. AustCyber remains focused on ensuring that Australia’s cyber security sector will continue to grow and deliver economic and security benefits to the whole economy,” AustCyber said in a statement today.

The Senate and House of Representatives are expected to debate the bill later today.

AustCyber – formed in 2017 as part of the federal government’s Industry Growth Centres Initiative – said it had requested it be briefed as soon as possible by “relevant officers from the Department of Home Affairs” on the bill’s “details”.

Industry survey unheard

AustCyber expects to this week release the results of a major survey of Australian cyber security firms, carried out with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The survey was issued to firms early last month canvassing their views on the bill and its economic impacts.

“We certainly heard there were concerns, and we wanted to better understand what they were. We didn’t feel like we had the views of our stakeholders in an evidence based way that we could actually use to inform what we did next,” AustCyber strategy chief Belinda Newham told CIO.

The organisation initially hoped the survey results would inform debate on the bill. Each stage of the bills consultation and introduction has been expedited; the government in September introducing the bill into the House of Representatives just 10 days after closing a public consultation on an exposure draft.

Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted the bill be passed before Christmas, calling on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) to complete its scrutiny of the bill “as quickly as possible”.

“The discussion was sped up a bit. Obviously we still see an opportunity to help inform and guide discussions going forward using [the survey results] as an evidence base. But yeah, we would have liked to have provided that as part of it,” Newham said.

“We’re not trying to get into the politics of the bill at all. It is what it is for us now, and we see that as an opportunity to inform the ongoing advocacy and communication,” she added.

Newham would not comment on whether or not the bill was a good thing for the local cyber security industry.

AustCyber remains focused on ensuring that Australia’s cyber security sector will continue to grow and deliver economic and security benefits to the whole economy,” she added.

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