Oh boy. It's no secret that the Australian government -- led by George Brandis (who has made it abundantly clear he has no clue what a VPN is or what metadata is) -- is pushing strongly for mandated backdoors to encryption. At this point, it's beating a dead horse, but this is a very, very bad idea for a whole host of reasons -- mainly having to do with making absolutely everyone significantly less safe.
And it appears that Brandis' ignorance has moved up the chain of command. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has now put out what may be the single dumbest statement on encryption yet (and that's a pretty high bar). After being told yet again that safe encryption backdoors violate basic mathematics, Turnbull became super patriotic about the ability of Australian law to trump mathematics:
"The laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that," he said on Friday. "The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia."
And, then he pulled out the "nerd harder, nerds" argument:
"I'm not a cryptographer, but what we are seeking to do is to secure their assistance," Turnbull said. "They have to face up to their responsibility. They can't just, you know, wash their hands of it and say it's got nothing to do with them."
"I am sure they know morally they should. Morally they should."
So after admitting that he doesn't understand how this works, he's saying that the "moral" responsibility of cryptographers -- who have basically all told him his plan will make people less safe -- is to make people less safe.
Turnbull seems to think he can get around the whole problem by... semantics. You see, if we just redefine things and say we're not asking for "backdoors" then it's fine:
"A back door is typically a flaw in a software program that perhaps the -- you know, the developer of the software program is not aware of and that somebody who knows about it can exploit," he said. "And, you know, if there are flaws in software programs, obviously, that's why you get updates on your phone and your computer all the time."
"So we're not talking about that. We're talking about lawful access."
That bit of word salad suggests that at least a tiny smidgen of actual knowledge made it into his brain. A backdoor is an exploit. But "lawful access" is a backdoor. Pretending they are different suggests a fairly staggering level of ignorance.
Not to be outdone, but Brandis then took his own turn at the podium to spew more ignorance:
Asked how Australia's proposed regime would allow local authorities to read messages sent with either WhatsApp or Signal, Brandis said “Last Wednesday I met with the chief cryptographer at GCHQ ... And he assured me that this was feasible.”
Right. It's pretty well known that intelligence communities can frequently hack into things to get messages, but not because of backdoors to encryption but through other flaws. This includes things like keyloggers or other spyware that effective route around the encryption. But that's entirely different than demanding backdoors. And, of course, this all comes about a week after GCHQ's own former boss argued that attacking the end points was a better strategy than backdoors. It's almost certain that what GCHQ told Brandis is that they can be pretty successful in attacking those endpoints, without undermining encryption -- and that message got twisted in Brandis' mind to believe that it meant that there were already backdoors in Whatsapp and Signal (there are not).
This whole thing is a somewhat tragic comedy of errors with completely clueless politicians making policy badly, potentially putting everyone at risk... while astoundingly claiming that laws can trump basic mathematics. What a joke.