The Weekly Cybers #1
A personal look at what the Australian government has said and done in the digital and cyber realms.
This is the first edition of The Weekly Cybers, a personal look at what the Australian government has been saying and doing in the digital and cyber realms, various adjacent topics, and whatever else interests me.
This is about government, not politics, so no reporting of the party-political horse race. Instead, it's about legislation, reports, public consultations, governance, process, and all the things that political journalists don’t get around to noticing until it’s too late to make a difference.
I’ll link to some news reports, though. Reports about how digital government and related things are working, corruption exposed, and failures analysed.
The Weekly Cybers is an evolution of a series of blog posts titled Digital developments from Canberra, which began in July 2022. But who reads blogs these days, right? I hope this format will be more convenient.
This all started because I was already trying to keep up to date with the week’s digital action to support my journalism — here’s some favourite examples. Turning it into a blog post was only a little bit more work.
After a hiatus during 2023, I plan to return to doing more journalism, particularly longer-form pieces, in 2024. Links to those pieces will appear here too.
But enough of that. On with the show...
Canberra drops some AI guidance
The Australian government released its interim response to the Supporting responsible AI consultation. These documents can sometimes seem like fluff, but they set out the language that will be used as the policy development process unfolds — and the words shape the thinking.
The guiding principles are all motherhood statements, of course: a risk-based approach, “balanced and proportionate”, “collaborative and transparent”, “community first”, and becoming a “trusted international partner”.
That said, the government will “consult further on options for introducing new regulatory guardrails with a focus on testing, transparency and accountability”. They will develop a AI Safety Standard, "work with industry to consider the merits of voluntary watermarking or similar data provenance mechanisms for AI developed and used in high-risk settings” — what about lower-risk settings? — and set up an interim expert advisory group.
Also, the government will “take forward the commitments it made in the Bletchley Declaration, including supporting the development of a State of the Science report”. Whatever that means.
The Australian Academy of Science thinks it’s a sensible first step, and Engineers Australia calls it an intelligent first step. So yeah, it's a first step, and the lobby groups don’t want to appear combative.
Interestingly, Australian creatives and publishers could be paid if their content is used to train AI, according to industry and science minister Ed Husic. That might seem like a stretch, but Australia did force search engines and social media sites to give money to news mastheads, so maybe?
Also in the news
- Digital transformation remains confusing and challenging for public servants, reports The Mandarin. In my mind this points to a serious organisational failure. Back when I was in the public service — admittedly in a previous century and only for two years in a junior role — the benchmark was that somewhere from 5% to 10% of the personnel budget should be spend on staff development. Call it one day a fortnight. I wonder what the percentage is in the Australian Public Service these days.
- From the Guardian, Centrelink staff claim toilet breaks are being timed by management in crackdown.
- Prime Minister calls major scam a ‘scourge’ after Guzman Y Gomez targeted in coordinated cyber. Oh no, not the tacos!
- "The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has made a case to be part of the inner circle of agencies privy to intelligence about active cyber incidents, after finding itself excluded during a recent incident response", reports iTnews. The poor petals.
- Schools key to tackling global cybersecurity epidemic, says KPMG Australia chief executive Andrew Yates. Interestingly, a few years ago Israel made cybersecurity part of the school curriculum from age 13, and set up a process for identifying talented kids for further development. By all accounts it's been incredibly successful.
- Home Affairs splits telco services between Optus, Vocus. It’s always good to have a backup, right?
- Finally, it’s not from Canberra, but NSW is launching a revival of internet voting for blind and low vision voters. Currently it’s just a request for information, but those of us with memories going back five years will remember, as I wrote then, the NSW iVote system was full of bugs. Fortunately the NSW government has already ruled out internet voting more generally.
Parliament is currently on summer break, and is due to return on Tuesday 6 February 2024.
Any questions or comments? Just reply to this email. Cheers.
The Weekly Cybers is a personal look at what the Australian government has been saying and doing in the digital and cyber realms, on various adjacent topics, and whatever else interests me, Stilgherrian, published every Friday afternoon (nearly).
If I’ve missed anything, or if there’s any specific items you’d like me to follow, please let me know.
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