- Australian regulators have launched a crackdown on crypto research in the country
- The crackdown aims to restrain communication with the overseas research community outside intelligence circles
- This move poses challenges to cryptocurrency researchers and organisations
The Australian Department of Defence has launched a crackdown to tighten exemptions for information security and cryptographic researchers in Australia. This will be implemented through tough export control laws. The move is likely to restrain collaboration with the overseas research community outside intelligence circles.
The Defence Department’s Export Controls arm or DEC has revoked the permits of researchers that are subject to the Defence Trade Controls or DTC Act 2012. This act regulates the supply of military and the dual-use technologies overseas.
In 2017, research permits were introduced on a trial basis. This was intended to allow researchers in the information security and cryptography field to communicate with their counterparts coming from non-sanctioned countries.
The Defence department has now launched a new bid in order to retrospectively reclassify research. During this time, the information security industry sections remain at loggerheads with the government about the new controversial crypto busting powers.
Considering the date of the delivery of highly anticipated defence exports controls being reviewed by Vivienne Thom is still up in the air, leading academics have said that they are already feeling the heat. Vivienne Thom is a former Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.
According to the Department of Defence, the permits issued to academic researchers have been made to “achieve a balance between the need for free flow of information for research purposes in the initial stages of a research project and national security interests”.
However, a couple of years after the trial was introduced, they have pulled the plug which allows communication between organisations and any non-sanctioned countries about cryptography research.
Universities crying out
One of the many organisations that have been affected by undisclosed policy change amid the DTC Act review is the University of Melbourne. Dr Vanessa Teague, a professor and cryptographic researcher at the School of Computing and Information Systems told iTnews that the decision of not renewing the university’s general permit limited her communication to other researchers in three countries. According to her, it occurred without any explanation from DEC.
As a result, every time the university wants to communicate with a non-approved country’s researchers, they need to fill out a form and ask permission. The process was described by Teague described as “unworkable in the context of an international, competitive scientific community”.
“What they [Defence] don’t understand is asking permission in advance and waiting a few months to get around to granting a permit is just unworkable in the context of scientific research.”
Teague even warned that other research organisations could also be affected:
“Because the permits last for a year, and I don’t know exactly when the policy changed, the only other people who might have been affected would be the other people whose permit expired after the policy changed.”