The Weekly Cybers #3
As the work year starts, AI and digital ID loom large, Wyatt Roy goes Saudi, and cabinet archiving fails are simply incompetence not politics.
Happy February! Australia Day has been and gone, which means the 2024 working year has begun. For those of us interested in the digital realm, AI and digital ID loom large in the Australian government’s work plan.
All the whinging about the new digital ID laws
As the Senate secretariat publishes the public submissions to the inquiry into Australia’s proposed new Digital ID laws, all the special pleading become apparent.
In case you’ve missed it, the Digital ID Bill 2023 and its companion the Digital ID (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2023, which were introduced to parliament in 30 November last year, will create the framework for a national digital ID system, which is planned to be in place by 1 July this year.
The legislative framework, that is, not necessarily the system itself.
The Senate Economics Legislation Committee is due to report by 28 February, which means that some time after that the legislation will come back to the Senate with a bunch of government amendments — and then the real bitchfight starts.
This also means that the Budget to be revealed on Tuesday 7 May will contain the funding to run the system. That will include money for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission as the Digital ID Regulator, Centrelink as the System Administrator (which I’m sure fills us all with confidence), a Digital ID Data Standards Chair, and various advisory committees.
Well, check out some of these opinions...
“Australia’s politically powerful poker machine lobby has started quietly pushing the Albanese government for permission to use powerful ‘one-to-many’ (or ‘1:many’) biometric facial matching technology... It’s a move that would overturn key safeguards,” writes The Mandarin.
“The peak body for Australia’s $120 billion retail liquor industry has warned the federal government that smaller independent online merchants are being priced out of using digital identity to verify the age of prospective online purchasers, saying the technology may not be economically viable for some.”
Meanwhile — and I thoroughly recommend following this stuff in The Mandarin — Australian Payments Plus, the payments platform that runs EFTPOS and your nice fast bank transfers, the Big Four banks, and major supermarkets want to add racial markers to the digital ID so they can “sell proof-of-Aboriginality products into Indigenous communities”.
Andrew Bolt and Pauline Hanson must be thrilled with this idea.
At least there are calls to ban police access to digital ID data.
There’s more to come. And as I said that time, if anyone wants to pay me to got through all of the other submissions, I’m game.
Morrison government cleared over (non-)archiving of cabinet records
Back on 1 January, as the Guardian put it, “The Morrison government failed to hand over some national security-related cabinet documents from the time of the Iraq war to the National Archives of Australia for potential public release”.
This week they reported that the Howard-era files went missing due to a ‘major breakdown’, not a political decision.
In his full report, former ASIO chief Dennis Richardson writes: “PM&C’s failure to provide the NAA with a complete set of 2003 Cabinet records was a result of administrative error, in part due to the circumstances particular to 2020 and in part due to systemic issues. Any suggestion of political influence or interference is without foundation.”
Richardson identified a bunch of procedural problems, one of which is that various officials responsible for the archiving of top secret documents don’t actually hold a Top Secret Positive Vetting security clearance (TSPV), “making proper oversight of the transfer process more complex and difficult than it should be”. Well it would.
He also noted “incomplete standard operating procedures regarding transfer processes; an absence of records management expertise within Cabinet Division; no consistent knowledge of Archives Act transfer obligations within the Cabinet Division; and no effective central control of Cabinet records”.
So don’t worry, Kids. It wasn’t politics. It was merely comprehensive incompetence. Again.
Productivity Commission looks at AI regulation
The Productivity Commission has released three research papers, Making the most of the AI opportunity: productivity, regulation and data access. I haven’t read them yet, but these reports are likely to inform future government activity.
Meanwhile, “Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones has thrown his support behind an AI regulation model that is directed at activity and harms rather than the technology itself, as the government starts exploring ‘bespoke’ guardrails this year,” reports InnovationAus.com.
Wyatt Roy and the Saudis: a band that knows how to shred
Former MP Wyatt Roy, once a junior minister for innovation in Malcolm Turnbull’s government, has joined the leadership team of Saudi Arabia's NEOM future-city, a half-trillion-dollar pet project of bone saw enthusiast Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Read the Wikipedia articles for the overview, especially about The Line, and then for the flavour try this bullshit about Aquellum, “a subterranean digitalized community of the future” and a “subterranean metaverse community”.
I’ll have some of what they’re having.
Also in the news
- “A Chinese embassy official has confronted Australia’s new cyber ambassador after he told a gathering of diplomats in Canberra that Beijing was responsible for a series of devastating online attacks against this country,” reports ABC News.
- “Australian domain administrator auDA wants police to be trained in how the internet works and who’s responsible for the different components of service delivery,” reports iTnews.
- ASIC asks for specific laws around AI misuse.
- Fans of irony will appreciate the cost blowout in the Parliamentary expenses system (PEMS). The original budget was $38.1 million, but the cost so far is $74.3 million and rising.
- Canberra’s Australia Day drone display hailed as a success.
- Chinese hackers would outnumber FBI cyber agents by 50 to 1, even if the agency threw all its resources at China, according the FBI's chief.
- Asean, Beijing must address cyber threats in South China Sea talks.
- Parking apps are sweeping Australia’s cities. Here’s what you may not know about them.
- Data gold rush: companies once focused on mining cryptocurrency pivot to generative AI, surprising nobody. But please don’t call it a grift. A grift is a low-end scam, repeated. This is far worse than that.
On Friday the Senate Environment and Communications Committee is holding a second public hearing on the Optus network outage, although the program (PDF) currently shows that Optus isn't giving evidence this time.
(As an aside, Singtel says it is not considering divesting Optus units.)
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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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