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Sep 7, 2010

NBN a haven for criminality, say federal police

Wherever people gather, there will be crime and the internet is no different. But we shouldn't exaggerate the risks, writes Electronic Frontiers Australia's Colin Jacobs.

A crime-fighter’s job is never done. By the time you’ve solved one crime, two other crims have found a new and even more despicable way to make a dishonest living. So it’s not surprising that this endless task might start to colour your outlook on life.

A case in point is the Australian Federal Police’s submission to the Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, reported in The Australian yesterday. The AFP apparently view the National Broadband Network with some trepidation. “The inherent risk of the NBN is that it could facilitate the continual growth and sophistication of online criminal syndicates’ ability to commit cyber offences against online systems due to the attractiveness of the increased speed,” they wrote in their submission.

When your job involves treating the internet as “a veil for a diverse array of criminality”, it’s easy to see why the advent of the NBN might cause some alarm.  Think of what the criminals could do with all that extra bandwidth — it will “result in increased bandwidth available for committing or facilitating computer offences”.

Solving and preventing crime is, certainly, easier in a simpler and slower world. The AFP are probably right in their belief that the NBN will bring new opportunities for crooks. New and complex services will proliferate, more transactions and commerce will occur online, and international boundaries will blur even further. Communications will become more difficult to trace. To the enterprising fraudster, hacker, or even child p-rnographer, the NBN will be a boon.

But, of course, road-building projects are not scuppered because they will enable thieves to make faster getaways. Nevertheless, similar arguments have been advanced and zealously pursued by industry and law enforcement in the past.

Famously, the introduction video cassette recorder was violently opposed by the movie industry on the grounds that it could be used for copying movies. While the legitimate uses far outweigh the criminal ones, the industry could only see the latter, and if they had had their way would have cut themselves off from the cash-cow that was to be home video sales.

The controversy around consumer secrecy tools such as “Pretty Good Privacy” (PGP) email encryption was another case in point. When privacy can be ensured, everybody benefits as communication within organisations becomes more flexible, commerce becomes more secure, and oppression becomes more difficult. As a side effect, law enforcement has a more difficult time intercepting the communications of criminals. This may be regrettable, but it’s hardly a reason to deny the benefits to the rest of society. Nevertheless, US agencies had the software classified as a munition in order to ban its export, and the government attempted to mandate the inclusion of “back-door” mechanisms for snooping.

The NBN, of course, is merely an Australian initiative. Even if we were allowed to continue lagging behind, the world will move on and cyber crime will continue to affect us. With or without the NBN, as the police note, most criminal activity is outside of Australian jurisdictions. In that light, the NBN could be seen as a help rather than a hindrance. New technologies, when cleverly exploited, can help police work as much as criminal enterprises. Even the AFP should benefit from the NBN’s increased bandwidth and information sharing possibilities.

Wherever people gather, there will be crime and the internet is no different. But we shouldn’t exaggerate the risks. The NBN is a necessary piece of infrastructure. If the getaway cars are getting faster, the police will have no choice but to keep up.

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4 comments

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4 thoughts on “NBN a haven for criminality, say federal police

  1. EngineeringReality

    Scary that the government threw money at the AFP for years and years as it became a terrorist finding, intelligence gathering behemoth yet in its thinking its more a dinosaur than agile and nimble crime fighter that the propaganda paints it to be.

    The proof of the pudding was the Haneef debacle where they wasted $150 million dollars trying to prove they weren’t completely wrong about a man with a sim card.

  2. Tom McLoughlin

    … and not to forget the Winston Smith effect of turning the camera direction around on the user, as per 1984. Apparently it has happened with snooping by one US school authority causing outrage by spying on it’s students via the inset computer camera of student computers.

    Just google “school spies on students with laptops”

    Why wider society hasn’t woken up to that risk profile of big brother somewhere pursuing fascist tendencies on high capacity fibre is curious in itself. Is it because it was in a novel so it can’t really happen?

    Well let’s hope not.

  3. Daemon Singer

    I find it interesting that the Australian Federal police are all worried and concerned about the NBN and its capacity to increase loans and areas of criminality when one considers they at the AFP’s headquarters regularly involve themselves in criminality, Internet notwithstanding. The efforts of the AFP to do a number of Julian Moti being a case in point. Frightened that they were losing the high ground in their argument with a foreign government, they simply applied the local laws and bribe the supposed victim and her family to make their case for them.

    Likewise the Bali nine. Not content with having the knowledge that on their arrival back in Australia they could have arrested them and sent them all to jail for 10 years, they informed the Indonesian police of the situation, knowing full well that by doing so they were putting a situation together where they could apply the death penalty by proxy.

    Having seen the results of their work in Thailand over the years, and their endless efforts to ingratiate themselves with foreign governments, particularly former Commissioner Kielty, it seems no real surprise that considering their inability to actually investigate but rather to be dependent upon information given to them, such as Young Rush’s Father telling the AFP about his son’s plans, hoping the AFP would “protect” his son, that they should fear any new avenue requiring more of the skills they don’t have.

    One hopes that the new commissioner isn’t planning a seat on Interpol, but instead will try to develop the AFP as an “investigatory” body, rather than a reporting body as is currently the case, and the high-speed broadband represented by the NBN will just be another area for them to keep an eye on.

    I suspect the biggest fly in the AFP’s ointment is the simple fact that their political masters have promised the independents decent broadband for their constituencies irrespective of the fear and loathing raised by our “national” police.

  4. AR

    The AFPraetorian guard always went for the easiest option/victim. Didn’t dare touch Andrew Bolt over his admission that “..I’ve read the only report Wilkie ever wrote” because it was obvious the Dolly had given it to him to discredit Wilkie’s plainly true assertions about the Rodent’s begging to be included in the Coaltion of the Killing.
    Their grovelling enthusiasm in shopping drug mules to Thai/Singapore/Malaysian authorities is also out of sheer ineptitude in doing the hard yards of proper investigation. This is well known within the other LEAs which regard them as plastic plods.