MEDIA RELEASE: Attacks on Encryption: Privacy, Civil Society and the Surveillance State

The Australian Government’s intention to pursue new and increased powers to access encrypted communications via statutorily required ‘backdoors’ has been met with wide-ranging privacy and information security concerns.

On 5 October 2017, a panel of encryption experts, international privacy law experts, academics, politicians, digital rights advocates, and journalists will unpack the social and technical consequences of the proposed new ‘backdooring’ powers.

At present, it is unclear if Australia’s laws will require so-called ‘backdoor’ vulnerabilities to be built into messaging applications like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. However, if this were to occur, it would enable government access to these services via decryption keys and/or enable remote access to devices for interception of communications “at the ends”. Experts argue that these powers are unnecessary and should be highly concerning for Australians who, unlike other western democracies, do not have a constitutional right to privacy.

This Attacks on Encryption event is relevant to anyone concerned about security and responsible governance and will cover the consequences of engineering ‘backdoors’ into commercially available encryption software, the issues associated with companies being compelled to decrypt user data, and forcing the design of communications tools that allow government interception.

Speakers at the Attacks on Encryption event include:

  • Former Senator Mr Scott Ludlam: Surveillance politics

  • Angela Daly, Digital Rights Watch Australia and QUT Law: Legal dimensions of the global #waronmaths

  • Justin Clacherty, Redfish Group, Australian Privacy Foundation, and Future Wise: Government attacks on encryption and civil society coalition campaigns

  • Robin Doherty, ThoughtWorks and Hack for Privacy and Eru Penkman, ThoughtWorks and brisSafety: Breaking Encryption for Dummies

  • Brenda Moon, QUT Digital Media Research Centre and Felix Münch, PhD Candidate QUT Digital Media Research Centre: Encryption for journalists

  • Michael Wilson, QUT Justice PhD Candidate: The contested moral legitimacy of encryption ‘backdoors’

  • Discussant: Phil Green, QLD Privacy Commissioner

The event will be hosted at ThoughtWorks Brisbane, with live streaming and remote links. A detailed summary of the speakers follows.

Former Senator Scott Ludlam


Surveillance politics

How has Australia evolved into one of the most monitored societies on earth? How did a country that prides itself on individualism and disregard for authority so casually submit to deeply intrusive government and corporate surveillance? Former Senator Scott Ludlam will share reflections on the political mechanics of the surveillance state and consider ways of pushing back.


First elected in November 2007, Scott trained as a graphic designer and worked in small studios for eight years as a designer, illustrator and web developer.

As Australian Greens communications spokesperson between 2008 and 2017, Scott accidentally became a leading voice against the Federal Government’s attempt to introduce a mandatory net filter, followed by a six year campaign against mandatory data retention. He won amendments to better secure public ownership of the National Broadband Network and has been a strong advocate for a diverse, accessible communications sector that doesn’t involve real-time mass surveillance of users.

Angela Daly


Dr Angela Daly is Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in Queensland University of Technology’s Faculty of Law and a research associate in the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society (Netherlands). She is a comparative socio-legal scholar of technology and is the author of Socio-Legal Aspects of the 3D Printing Revolution (Palgrave 2016) and Private Power, Online Information Flows and EU Law: Mind the Gap (Hart 2016). She holds a PhD in Law from the European University Institute, which was joint winner of the 2013-2015 Fondazione Calamandrei Frosini prize for best thesis in legal informatics and information law. Prior to QUT, she was previously Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Media and Communications Law at the Swinburne Institute for Social Research.

Justin Clacherty


Justin is Founder and Managing Director of Redfish Group Pty Ltd, a small product development firm specialising in development of electronic products and embedded systems. He has over 20 years experience as a professional engineer developing products for various industries including mining, power generation and distribution, telecommunications, law enforcement, transport, industrial electronics, and consumer electronics. Justin has a keen interest in information security and has presented at industry conferences including AusCERT and PyCon Australia. Outside of work Justin is a founding member of Future Wise Australia, an Australian NGO which focuses on improving discussion and policy around technology, health, and education. He has recently accepted a position on the board of the Australian Privacy Foundation.

Robin Doherty and Eru Penkman


Breaking Encryption for Dummies

This talk will answer three basic technical questions one might ask of a government that insists “the laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia”.

  1. What even is a backdoor – how would it work?
  2. What problems would it solve and what problems would it create?
  3. Are there any alternatives?


Robin is a software developer at ThoughtWorks and co-founder of Hack for Privacy, a group of software makers who defend privacy as a human right. After observing the disregard for the security of users’ data that is prevalent throughout the software industry, and the lack of respect for privacy across society as a whole, his despair was turned to action by Snowden’s revelations of 2013. He believes that the software industry is culpable in the demise of privacy, most people are in denial about their own role in mass surveillance, and now is the time to fix our attitudes. He attempts to demystify and promote privacy in Australia by facilitating workshops, making noise on the internet, and organising Hack for Privacy.

Eru’s a software developer with ThoughtWorks and founder of brisSafety, a meetup group for sharing digital privacy techniques. He’s also a serial meetup organiser and has a role in the Blockchain, Security and Digital Journalism meetup groups. Having seen the security and privacy issues prevalent in the software industry, he’s doing what he can to promote responsible handling of people’s data within the industry and giving people the tools they need to take back control of their own data.

Brenda Moon and Felix Münch


Encryption for journalists

In this talk we address digital threats a journalist (and everyone else!) should protect against, such as weak password reuse, revealing your identity through your ip address and browser details, unencrypted communication, unencrypted devices and meta data retention. We then explain basics of computer security, the encryption of data and communication, and provide recommendations for existing tools to make your digital activity more secure.


Dr Brenda Moon is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the QUT Digital Media Research Centre where her primary research interest is using interdisciplinary approaches to apply and develop digital methods. She has been investigating a range of approaches including looking at patterns in timeseries data, topic analysis, network analysis, image analysis and working with large scale social media data.

Brenda actively promotes Open Culture, particularly maker spaces, open source software, open hardware and open science. She supports women in computing through participation in groups including PyLadies, AdaCamp and DjangoGirls. Her successful career of over 25 years in the IT Industry informs her research practice.

Felix Victor Münch is a PhD Candidate in the Digital Media Research Centre at QUT. With a B.Sc. in Physics (LMU, Munich, Germany), a M.A. in Journalism (LMU and German Journalist School, Munich, Germany) and work experience in online media brand communication as an online media concepter and strategist, his main fields of interest are network science methods and their application on online media.

Michael Wilson


The contested moral legitimacy of encryption ‘backdoors’ Cyberspace is increasingly integrated within the everyday lives of citizens of liberal democracies, including experiences of crime and the administration of justice. For these purposes, the Australian government has significant powers to monitor and access digital communications under the Telecommunications (Intercept and Access) Act (1979). This includes powers to retain metadata, preserve and monitor digital communications, and access computer networks in real-time. Recently, the Australian government has proposed – together with other members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance – additional powers to compel technology companies to provide access to encrypted communications. The ongoing nature of these debates raises important questions about legitimate authority and civil resistance within the surveillance society.

This presentation therefore builds upon a broader doctoral project examining the contested legitimacy of digital surveillance systems. It is argued that processes of moral legitimation and contestation are intimately connected, and that this knowledge can inform effective strategies of resistance and the development of responsible cybersecurity policy. This argument will be unpacked across three sections. First, it will be demonstrated that governments have employed diverse strategies of ‘legitimation’ to justify the expansion of surveillance powers (including access to encrypted communications). Second, ongoing analyses of digital civil society’s strategies of contestation are considered. This highlights which forms of moral reasoning about legitimate authority are embedded within digital rights activism. Third, an analysis of the consequences of – and relationships between – the legitimation of surveillance powers and strategies of civil resistance is conducted. This informs preliminary critiques about digital rights strategies and highlights the need for additional data.


Michael Wilson is a PhD Candidate in the School of Justice, Faculty of Law at the Queensland University of Technology. His research interests include theories of justice, legitimate authority, digital governance, and surveillance studies. His professional experience includes administration, teaching, and research in higher education, and information management within the public sector. Michael’s doctoral thesis examines the attitudinal and behavioural responses to government surveillance, focusing particularly on the moral reasoning of digital rights activists. He has contributed to projects examining human trafficking, cybersecurity policy, and electronic civil disobedience.

Discussant: Philip Green

Philip Green was appointed to the position of Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Information Commissioner in December 2015. As the Privacy Commissioner Philip actively promotes and champions privacy rights and responsibilities in Queensland. In his role as Privacy Commissioner, Philip leads the staff in OIC responsible for mediating privacy complaints which have not been resolved with the Queensland Government agency involved; conducting reviews and audits of privacy compliance; giving compliance notices for serious, flagrant or recurring breaches of the privacy principles; and waiving or modifying an agency’s privacy obligations for a particular purpose or project. Philip is appointed as Privacy Commissioner to 10 December 2018.



Australian Privacy Foundation

The Australian Privacy Foundation is the primary association dedicated to protecting the privacy rights of Australians. The Foundation aims to focus public attention on emerging issues which pose a threat to the freedom and privacy of Australians. The Foundation has led the fight to defend the right of individuals to control their personal information and to be free of excessive intrusions.

The Privacy Foundation plays a unique role as a non-government organisation active on a wide range of privacy issues. It works with consumer organisations, civil liberties councils, professional associations and other community groups on specific privacy issues. The Privacy Foundation is also a participant in Privacy International, the world-wide privacy protection network. Where possible, it cooperates with and supports official agencies, but it is entirely independent – and often critical – of the performance of agencies set up to protect our privacy.

Digital Rights Watch Australia

Digital Rights Watch is an charity organisation founded in 2016 whose mission is to ensure that Australian citizens are equipped, empowered and enabled to uphold their digital rights. We educate, campaign, lobby and advocate for a digital environment where individuals have the power to maintain their human rights.

Future Wise

Future Wise is a group of people brought together by a desire to improve the lives of Australians. We are not affiliated with any political party, lobby group, or industry association. We are all about ideas – discussing and spreading the good ones, and shining a light on the bad ones. Our goal is to create discussion about the best future for all Australians. We think about the long term – beyond the vagaries of a political cycle – and the big picture. How are these issues connected? How will they impact our lives now, and into the future?

QUT Faculty of Law, Crime and Justice Research Centre

The Crime and Justice Research Centre is a leader in high-impact interdisciplinary criminological research. We’re home to distinguished international researchers and are distinctive for our applied research and focus on the challenges confronting governments and criminal justice systems around the world.


Contact details
For more information please contact:

Justin Clacherty
+61 417 070 048