With Malcolm Turnbull declaring on Friday that the laws of Australia will override the laws of mathematics, you’d think we’d be closer to understanding exactly what the government wants to do to undermine encryption. But despite media conferences and interviews, it’s still entirely unclear exactly what the government proposes to compel IT companies to do — although the Luddite-for-the-ages George Brandis insisted on Friday that it would all be straightforward because the UK’s electronic spy agency GCHQ had assured him it would be.
So what form will this war on maths take? What we know is that agencies like GCHQ, the NSA and the CIA haven’t — despite Brandis’ blithe dismissals — managed to penetrate widely used encryption methods used online by companies like Apple and Google. Instead, what they aim to do is access the devices using that encryption to obtain information before it is encrypted, and relay it to agencies. That was a key lesson from the trove of CIA hacking tools that turned up on Wikileaks last year.