‘Extremist poison’: Australia’s top cop and spy warn of recalcitrant tech giants

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Katina Curtis
The Nightly
Australia’s top spy Mike Burgess and police officer Reece Kershaw are taking on the big tech companies over encrypted messaging.
Australia’s top spy Mike Burgess and police officer Reece Kershaw are taking on the big tech companies over encrypted messaging. Credit: The Nightly

Australia’s top spy and police officer are opening up another front in the fight with big tech companies, accusing them of failing to obey the law on encrypted messaging and fanning the flames of division.

ASIO director-general Mike Burgess says the companies too often fail to comply with warrants from police and security agencies seeking access to the encrypted messages of suspected criminals, extremists and terrorists.

In a joint appearance at the National Press Club on Wednesday alongside Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw, Mr Burgess will liken encrypted communications to “building a safe room for terrorists and spies, a secure place where they can plot and plan”, and will say law enforcement sought warrants to give them “real-time visibility of their activities”.

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The senior security officials are making the rare joint public appearance to discuss the challenges posed by emerging technology and unco-operative social media companies.

Both men will say tech giants are pushing ahead with end-to-end encryption as standard without adequately ensuring they have the technology in place to protect against online crime rather than enabling it.

“I am not calling for an end to end-to-end encryption. I am not asking for new laws. I am not asking for new powers. I am not asking for more resources,” Mr Burgess will say. “I am not asking the Government to do anything.

“I am asking the tech companies to do more. I’m asking them to give effect to our existing powers and to uphold existing laws.”

Mr Kershaw will hit out at social media platforms allowing “extremist poison to spray across the globe almost instantaneously”. However, he will say he wants to talk to the bosses of the world’s biggest social media to try and find a solution.

“My door is open to all relevant tech CEOs and chairmen, including Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,” he says. “I know we can find common ground because, put simply, tech is supposed to make our lives easier and safer, and not the opposite.”

It comes in the midst of a brawl between Elon Musk’s X and the Government and eSafety Commissioner over videos of the attack on a bishop in a church in Sydney’s west.

Reece Kershaw
Reece Kershaw. Credit: TheWest

And Mr Kershaw will use his speech to accuse social media companies of failing to do enough to protect children and young people from “being bewitched online by a cauldron of extremist poison”.

“Social media companies are refusing to snuff out the social combustion on their platforms. Instead of putting out the embers that start on their platforms, their indifference and defiance is pouring accelerant on the flames,” Mr Kershaw will say.

“If we consider the disinformation and misinformation from two shocking incidents in Sydney this month and how that social combustion was propagated throughout the world, we see the consequences of that indifference and defiance.”

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