There is a battle going on in Australia for the citizens’ right to privacy. The Australian government has proposed a bill which, if passed, will give the Australian government backdoor access to encrypted messages for the purpose of surveillance.
What starts in Australia could set a new standard for anti-privacy legislation around the world. If it’s successful, the United States and Europe could follow suit in adopting similar regulations.
The ‘Assistance and Access’ bill proposes three new powers for the Australian government.
- The ability to make a voluntary request for assistance from a company to get information.
- To be able to demand assistance from a company in getting information.
- To build new ‘backdoor features’ into the technology, which compromises user encryption.
If the bill is passed, Australian citizens could very well lose their online privacy. Not only does this have significant implications for the global blockchain community but for investors as well.
Decentralized apps rely on blockchain technology and vice versa. It would be like trying to use the internet without using a website — DApps and the blockchain are the same as they complement each other.
Due to the functionality that DApps add to the blockchain, DApps will become the primary way people interact across the blockchain. As a result, the demand for DApp developers has been steadily rising with the average Silicon Valley blockchain engineer now earning approximately $158,000.
However, most developers are not familiar with the blockchain-specific coding languages that are required to build DApps. This creates huge obstacles for DApp development to become widespread across the developer community.
However, if the Australian bill comes to pass, the very existence of decentralized apps — and the principles for which they stand for may be jeopardized.
DApps and legal compliance
Today, there are 1,945 DApps with approximately 12,900 daily active users according to the State of the DApps, a platform that tracks and updates DApp statistics daily.
Whilst DApp growth has seen a steady increase from 2017 to 2018, the bill threatens the very nature of decentralized application (DApp) development making it unclear how DApps could comply with Australia’s proposed new surveillance laws under the Assistance and Access bill.
For instance, consider a DApp like Blockstack that allows users to control their online data and privacy. How would Blockstack be able to comply with legislation for things like names and email addresses when the app is decentralized?
What would happen to a DApp if the majority of the network refuses to comply with a government’s request? Are all members of the blockchain in violation of the law? How can a government demand new features in a decentralized app? Does the new bill make DApps unlawful?
It is clear that if this bill passes, the regulation of DApps in Australia could expand to the Five Eyes (FVEY) alliance that comprises of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States sharing data intelligence.
Microsoft and Facebook respond to the bill
Microsoft, Facebook and some of the world’s largest technology companies came together and submitted a four-page notice to the Attorney General’s Department to oppose Australia’s bill through the Digital Industry Group Incorporated (DIGI).
The notice includes claims like “we continue to maintain that the current voluntary data breach notification arrangements are being put to good use by the Australian business community,” backed by data from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
February 16, 2016, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an open letter to customers, warning them that the United States government demanded Apple to provide backdoor access to a shooter’s iPhone in San Bernardino, California. Apple refused, citing that this would open a Pandora’s box of surveillance.
Nobody can say for certain what will come next for this controversial surveillance bill. If it passes, this could create trouble for DApp developers, the blockchain community, investors and anyone who values their privacy — including those that haven’t started using DApps just yet.