Australia is being seen as a test case. How does a liberal democracy affirm the destruction of private, encrypted communications? In 2015, China demonstrated what could be done to technology companies, equipping other states with an inspiration: encryption keys, when required, could be surrendered to the authorities.
It is worth remembering the feeble justification then, as now. As Li Shouwei, deputy head of the Chinese parliament’s criminal law division explained to the press at the time, “This rule accords with the actual work need of fighting terrorism and is basically the same as what other major countries in the world do”. Birds of a feather, indeed.
An Weixing, head of the Public Security Ministry’s Counter-Terrorism division, furnishes us with the striking example of a generic state official who sees malefactors coming out of the woodwork of the nation. “Terrorism,” he sombrely stated, reflecting on Islamic separatists from East Turkestan, “is the public enemy of mankind, and the Chinese government will oppose all forms of terrorism.” Given that such elastic definitions are in the eye of the paranoid beholder, the scope for indefinite spread is ever present.
The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, must be consulting the same oracles as those earning their keep in the PRC. The first rule of modern governance: frighten the public in order to protect them. Look behind deceptive facades to find the devil lurking in his trench…