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Scott Ludlam
Scott Ludlam

With the Australian Labor Party potentially set to support the Liberal/NP Government’s Data Retention Bill, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam will present two (sold-out) Cryptopartys, detailing what the Bill implies and how to protect online privacy with Anton Maz (Death Disco) and Grahame Bowland (Greens/Murdoch University) at the Velvet Lounge on Wednesday-Thursday, March 11-12. BOB GORDON got the lowdown while Ludlam was on a break from a parliamentary sitting.

The flyer for these upcoming events states, ‘Let’s Crypoparty like it’s 1984’. That’s very funny except for that fact that it’s not very funny at all…

(Laughs) If you don’t laugh at this stuff you’d probably end up curled in a foetal position under the desk. So we choose to laugh.

A lot of time has been spent on the definition of metadata, with much of that focussed on Attorney-General George Brandis’ attempted ‘definition’. To be clear on the point, what does it mean?

It’s your personal, private information about where you are at any given time and who you communicate with. It’s the map of your social life, who you’re close to, who you’re fond of, who you contact a lot. And it’s a map of  your physical movements everywhere you take your phone.

So I think, in a way, that the hang-up on the definition of metadata has damaged the conversation a bit. This is the private information of your life.

Why does the Labor Party appear to be sitting on their hands with this?

I think you’d have to ask them. What they’re kind of privately telling people inside this building is that they don’t want to be seen as being weak on national security and don’t want to be attacked by Tony Abbott for that. I think that’s just sad. If that’s your attitude, then politics isn’t for you.

There’s a tendency for people to over-share on social media as it is, especially on Facebook. Has social media perhaps lulled many people into a soft stance re this?

Yes and no. I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that because certainly some people put scary amounts of information online and in ways that can actually compromise their safety; whether you have a violent boyfriend or any of a number of different circumstances that can actually put you quite seriously at risk.

So some people over-share and in a lot of instances it’s kind of harmless, but not everybody does and actually there are a lot of people  – particularly young people – who are pretty careful to lock down Facebook profile pages and to keep their mobile numbers private and to keep things to within an inner circle. We’re seeing the emergence of communications platforms outside of Facebook for example, where it’s much more about peer-to-peer contact with your community.

So I think the whole ‘Generation Z has abandoned the privacy thing so who cares?’ is a bit overcooked. That agenda’s not necessarily reflective of the way a lot of people feel.

For those who can’t see around the corner, how will this manifest itself in practical terms?

I think what’s around the corner in the most practical sense is the end of investigative journalism. That won’t affect most people immediately on the day after the bill passes, but it’s going to become formidably difficult for journalists to protect sources for stories on national security or corruption or anything where they might be investigating the activities of government.

I’m not someone who thinks that we’ll wake up in a totalitarian state the day after this bill passes, if it does, because I still feel there’s a substantial chance that it won’t. These kinds of tools, these tools of mass indiscriminate surveillance, social network mapping and so on, they’re weapons. They’re tools developed to fight wars. They’re national security tools designed to fight really serious adversaries and so we are effectively allowing the emplacement of a weapon that if it was ever turned on a civilian population it would be very difficult to oppose.

That’s really the singular most important message that’s come from Mr Edward Snowden. If you’ve seen the Citizen Four film, that’s the thing he says in that film that resonated most strongly with me. These tools are weapons and if you were ever to turn these tools on civilian populations you’d have to be an immensely sophisticated technical actor to oppose them. So maybe that’s all a bit over the heads of people who are sharing stuff on Facebook and couldn’t care less, but the measure of opposition in the legal community, journalists, digital civil libertarians… you look at the measure of opposition around the country to this proposal, you do get the sense that people are concerned for their own privacy, but also for the wider implications of whether it is appropriate in a democracy for these tools to be built.

What will the two Cryptoparties encompass? People have been encouraged to bring USB sticks and laptops… 

Firstly, we’re going to do an overview of the state of play with the Data Retention Bill because we’re going to be right in the middle of things. So people who want to know the status of that campaign and what they can actually do to intervene and help change course, that’ll be the first part. That’ll be reasonably quick.

The second will be quite practical skill-sharing. It’s not going to be possible in an hour to do a lot of stuff really in-depth, but there are some really practical things that we want to share – and it’s not all going to be one-way because I suspect there’ll be quite a bit of expertise in the room – on password security, really basic digital hygiene but also encrypted instant messaging, how to use Tor (online anonymity software/network) and a where-to-go for more information and more training.

We’ll also be foreshadowing a much bigger event in April when we’ll have an opportunity to go into more technical tools such as strong  private key encryption and stuff. I don’t want anybody to come out of this debate feeling helpless.






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