Technology Changes. Evil Doesn't.

It's hard to watch the final moments of a man's life. Even harder when you realise you're watching through his own eyes.

The helmet camera worn by US Staff Sergeant Jeremiah W. Johnson, showed a soldier cut off from support and overwhelmed by militants.

You see him returning fire bravely with his three mates who also fell; before falling himself, bleeding out into the red Saharan dirt.

You also see the triumphant militants from Islamic State of the Greater Sahara. The ISGS soldiers tower over the fallen warrior, taking his last breaths. And you wonder what his last thoughts might have been.

Johnson and his small team of US special operators known as 'Green Berets', were ambushed on October 4, 2017, as they were returning from a mission to secure the small village of Tongo Tongo, in Niger, south of the Mali border.

Alongside Johnson and the three other US soldiers who were gunned down, five Nigerien soldiers also perished. The militants stripped the fallen soldiers and seized the helmet camera footage for exploitation.

On 4 March of this year, Islamic State released the footage onto social media, complete with jihadi music and fake screams.

Six months after the gun fight, Islamic State pressed the strategic advantage with widespread internet and media coverage of their tactical victory in Niger.

Technology has networked the world in a way that poses big challenges for policymakers. Cyberspace is a new battleground. Social media and encrypted communications have shifted the advantage to those who would do us harm.

Relatively small gunfights on the other side of the globe can do serious damage to Western governments and national prestige. Consider the 2012 attack on the US diplomatic complex in Benghazi, Libya, and the way that it was used against the US to damage its standing in North Africa and the Middle East.

Social media also enables terrorists to recruit and build networks. Islamic State has been extremely effective in their use of social media to spread propaganda and rally foreign fighters from around the world to join the caliphate, as they did in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

More than 100 Australians have joined to fight with Islamic State.

Islamic State and its affiliates may have lost a foothold in the Levant, but they continue to mobilise and inspire a global insurgency against Western democratic countries. The Bourke Street attack in Melbourne only weeks ago is just one example. The threat to Australia is ongoing.

Not only do terrorists seek to leverage social media for their messaging, but they also use encrypted communications to plot and plan attacks against us.

Encryption allows these criminals to 'go dark' and evade detection from Australian law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

We are at an increasing disadvantage in our fight against terrorists, spies, drug traffickers and paedophiles because our laws have not kept pace with technological change.

In fact, this the greatest challenge facing those charged with protecting the Australian people. We are fighting terrorists with our hands tied behind our backs.

This week, the Director-General of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Duncan Lewis, and the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Andrew Colvin, gave evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that encryption is making our security and police operationally less effective.

Lewis told us that plainly that encryption "has degraded our ability to identify terrorist activity".

This trend will only continue.

ASIO and the AFP predict that all lawfully intercepted messages are likely to be encrypted by 2020. The terrorists will go dark and it will be very difficult to stop their planning.

The Committee also had four hours of Top Secret briefings, which have left me with no doubt that there is a real and present threat to the Australian people.

That is why the Morrison government is urgently seeking passage of the Assistance and Access Bill.

It introduces a framework that gets industry and our security agencies working together to disrupt terrorist activity.

It also enables our security agencies to compel our communications providers to assist them in providing access to terrorist communications, without compromising the privacy of law-abiding Australians.

The Bill does not allow our security agencies to decrypt the messages of innocent Australians, nor does it allow the building of backdoors into encrypted communications. It isn't interested in harvesting mass data on Australian citizens, as some have falsely claimed.

This Bill applies a surgical approach to a critical problem. The simple reality is that we can't have terrorists, spies, drug traffickers and paedophiles operating outside the law in an ungoverned environment online.

Who else can keep Australians safe?

Will the big tech companies take responsibility for detecting threats and policing terrorism? Of course not. Silicon Valley's first loyalty is to profit, not Australian sovereignty and security.

Protecting Australians is the job of democratically elected, accountable governments. The Bill is before the Intelligence and Security committee now.

Liberal members are working very closely with Labor on a bipartisan basis. We all want the best laws for Australia, that enable our security people to protect us, with appropriate safeguards.

In a war where our enemies want to weaponise the internet, we must give Australian intelligence agencies the tools they need to fight back.


Originally Published in the Daily Telegraph.