It’s easy to suspect that many politicians believe, like King Canute’s courtiers, their writ can override (some might say “trump”) the laws of nature. Few, actually state the position openly however, but that is exactly what Australia’s Prime Minister did, telling a reporter the laws of mathematics carried no value when they conflicted with Australian law.
The context was the announcement of proposed legislation to force social media companies to give the government access to confidential messages where there is a suspicion these contain information about illegal activities.
Spokespeople for the government have said their laws will allow security agencies to check up on suspected terrorists or child abusers. Although the details of the law have yet to be fully revealed, critics of the legislation argue that what the government is asking for is impossible, unless it involves weakening encryption to the point where non-government forces will also be able to snoop on everyone’s private conversations. Some might consider this an acceptable price to pay, but the government prefers to argue it can have its cake and eat it too.
When challenged by reporter Asha McLean from ZDNet as to whether what he is proposing conflicted with the “laws of mathematics”, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull responded: “The laws of Australia prevail in Australia I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.”
The Internet has not been kind. Physicist and prominent Australian science communicator Dr Karl Kruszelnicki pointed out that past ventures in the same direction have ended badly.
A less well-known figure, Nick Casmirri, got some love for his suggestion:
Casmirri sent the tweet to Senator Scott Ludlum, who over the last nine years has earned a reputation as the Australian parliament’s fiercest defender of digital privacy. Initially this earned a retweet from the senator, indicating the idea might be on. Sadly, however, this is not to be, since a few hours later Ludlum resigned from the Senate, having discovered that under a technicality he was ineligible to be elected in the first place.
No other member of parliament has indicated an intention to take up Casmirri’s suggestion, and the opposition Labor party has declined to use the opportunity given by Turnbull’s comments, instead indicating support for the legislation and saying “we are in this together”.
Experts in the field, however, argue that going through with the legislation will deliver the worst of both worlds – terrorists or child pornographers will find safe ways of passing their messages, while the rest of us will find communication we thought was private open to anyone wishing to hack.