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Information Security Ups and Downs Down Under

Australia's change of government at the recent federal election has seen a number of interesting changes from an Information Security point of view, particularly from the aspects of data protection and personal privacy.

Probably the biggest immediate change, which has the net effect of being no change to the wider population, is the cancellation of the National ID plan, previously covered here and here. Concerns about previous attempts to introduce a National ID equivalent, including those voiced by the politicians that were pushing for the introduction of the National ID, seem to have held sway with this attempt.

Temporarily setting aside the concerns about the ability of the government to adequately manage such a large and sensitive database of personal information, it should be realised that there are a number of analogous systems already in place within Australia. While they do not integrate as successfully as the National ID scheme was planned to, they still represent equivalent systems of operation, right down to the problems of identity fraud and theft (or welfare fraud). The ubiquitous Medicare card and the subsidised healthcare system that it connects to is probably the closest system in capability and reach, though the Centrelink welfare and social security system is a close second (and the subject of much greater fraud action).

In all, the National ID was best seen as an effort to reduce the number of cards that an individual had to carry due to the inability of disparate systems to adequately communicate with each other (despite being different branches of the same government and the same information being held by different systems). It could have even alleviated some of the problem associated with storing the same sensitive information in multiple systems, each with their own peculiar quirks and security weaknesses.

Of greater concern is the introduction of legislation to restrict the availability of inappropriate content to underage Internet users. Given the current ease by which underage Internet users can access content that is already meant to be for those aged over 18, the requirement to ensure that those accessing MA15+ content are over 15 (no credit card to check against, there), and that those accessing R or X rated content are over 18, is going to be an interesting technical hurdle (and probably one ignored for the large part).

Despite the obvious technical impossibility associated with such a plan, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has been provided with the powers to force the removal of non-compliant content from the web (another technical impossibility). With the scent of vendor meddling in the working of the law, it seems that online service providers who provide "live services" are going to have to have their services "professionally assessed" in order to work out their requirement for restrictive compliance with the law. "Professional Assessors" are likely to have a busy working schedule in the near future.

Making matters even more ridiculous is the "opt-out" Internet filtering system that will soon be a forced part of every Australian's Internet connection.

This can be seen as a continuation of the NetAlert system that was supported by both major parties prior to the election. Pushing through this news over the Christmas -New Year period is a guarantee that the Australian public will not take a lot of notice of the changes.

It is still possible that the broader Internet will not take notice, given that there has been legislation regarding similar material since at least 1999, but it hasn't really affected the ability of Australian Internet users to access content restricted under the legislation.

3 January 2008

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