Labor will prioritise an NBN ‘digital inclusion drive’ – here’s what it should focus on


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People with poor broadband services spend more time in queues at the bank and for other services that should easily be accessible online.
from www.shutterstock.com

Julian Thomas, RMIT University

The national broadband network (NBN) has been a major issue in federal election campaigns for close to a decade.

And the 2019 version of the NBN bears little resemblance to the futuristic, egalitarian earlier editions.

Despite years of controversy, cost over-runs, and delays, the coalition government says our $50 billion national network is finally nearing completion.

But Labor’s Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has set out some different priorities should her party achieve government in the coming election. One of these is a “digital inclusion drive”, aimed at improving access to the internet for older Australians and low-income households.




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In addition, Labor is making no immediate commitment to replacing copper connections with fibre.

Instead, if elected, it will fund service and reliability fixes for those on the copper NBN, and impose service guarantees for small businesses and consumers. It will examine what has happened to the economics of the network, looking at its cash flow, pricing, capital structure, and future options for network upgrades.

Labor’s policy will disappoint those hoping for a fast-tracked return to that party’s original (2009) vision of high-speed fibre for (almost) everyone. But its 2019 plan is an important acknowledgement that network infrastructure is only one part of the NBN story.

Affordability and digital inclusion

The Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) provides data on the affordability of internet services for Australians since 2014. It shows that recent, modest improvements seen by some households have been matched by declines in affordability for a number of Australia’s more digitally excluded groups.

The results for low-income households, single parents, people outside the labour force, Indigenous Australians, and people with a disability remain poor.

The good news for Australian consumers is that the pricing of mobile services has improved, reflecting competitive pressures and the reduced cost of delivery as a consequence of investment by network owners.

But when we look at fixed broadband services — the kinds of connections used by most households — recent price increases by NBN have led to a decline in the number of low-cost plans on the market. This change post-dates the most recent ADII report (2018), and the effects are beginning to work their way into the market.




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Digital inclusion in Tasmania has improved in line with NBN rollout – will the other states follow?


Communications costs matter

Communications services have a knock-on effect in many other areas of life and work.

Access to high-speed broadband can reduce the costs of using other services considerably. This makes critical activities like banking, seeking government information, looking for work, or studying much easier.

But when we speak of the cost savings linked with online services, we need also to bear in mind the flip-side of those savings: the much higher costs borne by those, often less well-off, citizens who must access services offline.

If an individual on a low income lacks electronic access to banking or government information, the cost of commuting to do these things in person can be prohibitive — and especially so for Australians living in remote or regional areas.

For children at school and adults in education or training, a lack of access to the internet means many will fall behind their peers, as access to educational materials and online content becomes a core part of the modern education experience. This has implications for Australia’s ability to take advantage of the next wave of digital transformation.




Read more:
Australia’s digital divide is not going away


Expensive for everyone

The costs of inequitable internet access are directly felt by many families, but the broader costs are borne by society.

And so digital exclusion now has the potential to be a drag on Australia’s economic growth and productive potential for decades to come.

For individuals, conducting activities offline may be time-consuming and expensive. But that’s also true for the government. It’s estimated that even taking half of government services online would save around A$20 billion.

Aside from the costs of lower productivity, economic growth and tax receipts, inequitable access means that the material savings from automated services may never be realised.

Affordable access to broadband also supports the cost effective delivery of core government and other services – such as health – to regional and remote locations.

Although addressing inequitable access will involve costs in the short term, effective policy measures to improve affordability are likely to generate considerable national benefits.




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How to improve affordability

At this stage Labor is not saying what it might do to improve internet affordability for low-income households.

The idea of writing down the NBN has been widely discussed. It does, however, have serious implications: it will be very costly to taxpayers.

It will also limit the ability of the NBN to invest in future network upgrades and threaten the economics of uniform national pricing, the NBN’s key promise of equity for regional and remote Australia.

That could mean a return to the pre-NBN communications landscape, with regional and remote Australia relying on increasingly obsolete communications infrastructure while metropolitan Australia moves ahead.




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A direct increase in cash payments is likely to improve living standards materially for those in poverty, but more money for low income households doesn’t necessarily mean that broadband will be within their reach.

The creation of a concession at a retail level would make the telecommunications companies responsible for selling products at a cheaper rate, which in an era of reduced margins appears unlikely to occur.

Also, a series of retail concessions can lead to consumer confusion, as the scope of each scheme and the discounts on offer vary wildly. We’ve seen these problems in the energy sector.

Another option is to create a wholesale concession, a measure that has been promoted by consumer advocates. This would involve the government paying NBN to put a wholesale product into the market that retailers could purchase and retail to low income households.

A nationally uniform concessional service would allow retailers to compete in offering affordable services to low-income households, boost NBN take-up and consequently its revenue and financial viability.




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Focus on inclusion

While the introduction of a concessional arrangement would involve government picking up a part of the tab for service delivery, it offers sizeable benefits.

By ensuring NBN access for low-income households, the government avoids forgoing a large proportion of the savings that should accrued from the digital transformation of government services (and the benefits to be gained from improving services).

It would also prevent a lower take-up of NBN services and revenues. Without such an arrangement, questions will continue to be raised about the financial viability of NBN, its repayment of outstanding debt to government and whether there needs to be a write-down.

The take up of broadband has historically seen improvements in average household income, productivity, and the creation of new kinds of work and services.

In order to maximise the benefits of the current wave of digital change, we’ll need a broader public debate, that goes beyond the relative merits of fibre and 5G.

Policy will need to address the challenge of affordability, invest in digital literacy, and ensure that all Australians can access the services that they need.

While there are many improvements that can and should be made to our national network infrastructure, a focus on the larger problem of digital inclusion is both welcome, and overdue.The Conversation

Julian Thomas, Professor of Media and Communications; Director, Social Change Enabling Capability Platform, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The devil is in the detail of government bill to enable access to communications data


Monique Mann, Queensland University of Technology

The Australian government has released a draft of its long awaited bill to provide law enforcement and security agencies with new powers to respond to the challenges posed by encryption.

According to the Department of Home Affairs, encryption already impacts 90% of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s (ASIO) priority cases, and 90% of data intercepted by the Australian Federal Police. The measures aim to counteract estimates that communications among terrorists and organised crime groups are expected to be entirely encrypted by 2020.

The Department of Home Affairs and ASIO can already access encrypted data with specialist decryption techniques – or at points where data are not encrypted. But this takes time. The new bill aims to speed up this process, but these broad and ill-defined new powers have significant scope for abuse.




Read more:
New data access bill shows we need to get serious about privacy with independent oversight of the law


The Department of Home Affairs argues this new framework will not compel communications providers to build systemic weaknesses or vulnerabilities into their systems. In other words, it is not a backdoor.

But it will require providers to offer up details about technical characteristics of their systems that could help agencies exploit weaknesses that have not been patched. It also includes installing software, and designing and building new systems.

Compelling assistance and access

The draft Assistance and Access Bill introduces three main reforms.

First, it increases the obligations of both domestic and offshore organisations to assist law enforcement and security agencies to access information. Second, it introduces new computer access warrants that enable law enforcement to covertly obtain evidence directly from a device (this occurs at the endpoints when information is not encrypted). Finally, it increases existing powers that law enforcement have to access data through search and seizure warrants.

The bill is modelled on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, which introduced mandatory decryption obligations. Under the UK Act, the UK government can order telecommunication providers to remove any form of electronic protection that is applied by, or on behalf of, an operator. Whether or not this is technically possible is another question.

Similar to the UK laws, the Australian bill puts the onus on telecommunication providers to give security agencies access to communications. That might mean providing access to information at points where it is not encrypted, but it’s not immediately clear what other requirements can or will be imposed.




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For example, the bill allows the Director-General of Security or the chief officer of an interception agency to compel a provider to do an unlimited range of acts or things. That could mean anything from removing security measures to deleting messages or collecting extra data. Providers will also be required to conceal any action taken covertly by law enforcement.

Further, the Attorney-General may issue a “technical capability notice” directed towards ensuring that the provider is capable of giving certain types of help to ASIO or an interception agency.

This means providers will be required to develop new ways for law enforcement to collect information. As in the UK, it’s not clear whether a provider will be able to offer true end-to-end encryption and still be able to comply with the notices. Providers that breach the law risk facing $10 million fines.

Cause for concern

The bill puts few limits or constraints on the assistance that telecommunication providers may be ordered to offer. There are also concerns about transparency. The bill would make it an offence to disclose information about government agency activities without authorisation. Anyone leaking information about data collection by the government – as Edward Snowden did in the US – could go to jail for five years.

There are limited oversight and accountability structures and processes in place. The Director-General of Security, the chief officer of an interception agency and the Attorney-General can issue notices without judicial oversight. This differs from how it works in the UK, where a specific judicial oversight regime was established, in addition to the introduction of an Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

Notices can be issued to enforce domestic laws and assist the enforcement of the criminal laws of foreign countries. They can also be issued in the broader interests of national security, or to protect the public revenue. These are vague and unclear limits on these exceptional powers.




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Police want to read encrypted messages, but they already have significant power to access our data


The range of services providers is also extremely broad. It might include telecommunication companies, internet service providers, email providers, social media platforms and a range of other “over-the-top” services. It also covers those who develop, supply or update software, and manufacture, supply, install or maintain data processing devices.

The enforcement of criminal laws in other countries may mean international requests for data will be funnelled through Australia as the “weakest-link” of our Five Eyes allies. This is because Australia has no enforceable human rights protections at the federal level.

It’s not clear how the government would enforce these laws on transnational technology companies. For example, if Facebook was issued a fine under the laws, it could simply withdraw operations or refuse to pay. Also, $10 million is a drop in the ocean for companies such as Facebook whose total revenue last year exceeded US$40 billion.

Australia is a surveillance state

As I have argued elsewhere, the broad powers outlined in the bill are neither necessary nor proportionate. Police already have existing broad powers, which are further strengthened by this bill, such as their ability to covertly hack devices at the endpoints when information is not encrypted.

Australia has limited human rights and privacy protections. This has enabled a constant and steady expansion of the powers and capabilities of the surveillance state. If we want to protect the privacy of our communications we must demand it.

The ConversationThe Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 (Cth) is still in a draft stage and the Department of Home Affairs invites public comment up until 10th of September 2018. Submit any comments to assistancebill.consultation@homeaffairs.gov.au.

Monique Mann, Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in Regulation of Technology, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New data access bill shows we need to get serious about privacy with independent oversight of the law



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MICK TSIKAS/AAP

Greg Austin, UNSW

The federal government today announced its proposed legislation to give law enforcement agencies yet more avenues to reach into our private lives through access to our personal communications and data. This never-ending story of parliamentary bills defies logic, and is not offering the necessary oversight and protections.

The trend has been led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with help from an ever-growing number of security ministers and senior officials. Could it be that the proliferation of government security roles is a self-perpetuating industry leading to ever more government powers for privacy encroachment?

That definitely appears to be the case.

Striking the right balance between data access and privacy is a tricky problem, but the government’s current approach is doing little to solve it. We need better oversight of law enforcement access to our data to ensure it complies with privacy principles and actually results in convictions. That might require setting up an independent judicial review mechanism to report outcomes on an annual basis.




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Where is the accountability?

The succession of data access legislation in the Australian parliament is fast becoming a Mad Hatter’s tea party – a characterisation justified by the increasingly unproductive public conversations between the government on one hand, and legal specialists and rights advocates on the other.

If the government says it needs new laws to tackle “terrorism and paedophilia”, then the rule seems to be that other side will be criticised for bringing up “privacy protection”. The federal opposition has surrendered any meaningful resistance to this parade of legislation.

Rights advocates have been backed into a corner by being forced to repeat their concerns over each new piece of legislation while neither they nor the government, nor our Privacy Commissioner, and all the other “commissioners”, are called to account on fundamental matters of principle.

Speaking of the commissioner class, Australia just got a new one last week: the Data Commissioner. Strangely, the impetus for this appointment came from the Productivity Commission.

The post has three purposes:

  1. to promote greater use of data,
  2. to drive economic benefits and innovation from greater use of data, and
  3. to build trust with the Australian community about the government’s use of data.

The problem with this logic is that purposes one and two can only be distinguished by the seemingly catch-all character of the first: that if data exists it must be used.

Leaving aside that minor point, the notion that the government needs to build trust with the Australian community on data policy speaks for itself.

National Privacy Principles fall short

There is near universal agreement that the government is managing this issue badly, from the census data management issue to the “My Health Record” debacle. The growing commissioner class has not been much help.

Australia does have personal data protection principles, you may be surprised to learn. They are called “Privacy Principles”. You may be even more surprised to learn that the rights offered in these principles exist only up to the point where any enforcement arm of government wants the data.




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So it seems that Australians have to rely on the leadership of the Productivity Commission (for economic policy) to guarantee our rights in cyber space, at least when it comes to our personal data.

Better oversight is required

There is another approach to reconciling citizens’ interests in privacy protection with legitimate and important enforcement needs against terrorists and paedophiles: that is judicial review.

The government argues, unconvincingly according to police sources, that this process adequately protects citizens by requiring law enforcement to obtain court-ordered warrants to access information. The record in some other countries suggests otherwise, with judges almost always waving through any application from enforcement authorities, according to official US data.

There is a second level of judicial review open to the government. This is to set up an independent judicial review mechanism that is obliged to annually review all instances of government access to personal data under warrant, and to report on the virtues or shortcomings of that access against enforcement outcomes and privacy principles.

There are two essential features of this proposal. First, the reviewing officer is a judge and not a public servant (the “commissioner class”). Second, the scope of the function is review of the daily operation of the intrusive laws, not just the post-facto examination of notorious cases of data breaches.

It would take a lengthy academic volume to make the case for judicial review of this kind. But it can be defended simply on economic grounds: such a review process would shine light on the efficiency of police investigations.

According to data released by the UK government, the overwhelming share of arrests for terrorist offences in the UK (many based on court-approved warrants for access to private data) do not result in convictions. There were 37 convictions out of 441 arrests for terrorist-related offences in the 12 months up to March 2018.




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The Turnbull government deserves credit for its recognition of the values of legal review. Its continuing commitment to posts such as the National Security Legislation Monitor – and the appointment of a high-profile barrister to such a post – is evidence of that.

But somewhere along the way, the administration of data privacy is falling foul of a growing bureaucratic mess.

The ConversationThe only way to bring order to the chaos is through robust accountability; and the only people with the authority or legitimacy in our political system to do that are probably judges who are independent of the government.

Greg Austin, Professor UNSW Canberra Cyber, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: how to extend your phone’s battery life



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Without proper care, mobile phone batteries can degrade and hold less charge.
Arthur Mustafa/Shutterstock

Jacek Jasieniak, Monash University

As mobile phone users, all we want is enough battery life to last the day. Frustratingly, the older the device, the less power it seems to have.

In fact, the amount of battery life our mobiles have on any given day depends on two key factors: how we use them on that particular day, and how we used them in the past.

Mobile phones use lithium-ion batteries for energy storage. In this type of battery, lithium metal and lithium ions move in and out of individual electrodes, causing them to physically expand and contract.


Read more: Do you know where your batteries come from?


Unfortunately, these processes are not completely reversible and the batteries lose their charge capacity and voltage as the number of charge and discharge cycles grows.

To make matters worse, the electrolyte (electrically conductive liquid) that connects the electrodes also degrades throughout these cycles.

The ability of lithium-ion batteries to store charge depends on the extent of their degradation. This means there is a link between how we handle our devices today and the charge capacity available in the future.

Through a few simple steps, users can minimise this degradation and extend their device’s life.

Lithium ion batteries are the main battery type in mobile phones.
Andy Melton/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Strategies for extending battery capacity

Control battery discharge

Typical lithium-ion batteries for mobile phones are supposed to retain 80% of their charge capacity after 300-500 charge/discharge cycles. However, batteries rarely produce this level of performance, with charge storage capacity sometimes reduced to 80% levels within only 100 cycles.

Fortunately, we can extend our future battery capacity by limiting how much we discharge our mobile phone batteries. With most battery degradation occurring during deep discharge/charge cycles, it is actually better to limit the battery discharge during any one cycle before charging it again.

As it happens, our devices do have battery-management systems, which reduce damage from overcharging and shut down automatically if the battery gets too low.

Nonetheless, to maximise the battery capacity in the future we should avoid that 0% battery mark altogether, while also keeping those batteries at least partially charged if storing them for a prolonged period of time to avoid deep discharge.

Extend charging times

Many of today’s mobile devices have a fast charge option that enables users to supercharge them in minutes rather than hours. This is convenient when we’re in a rush, but should be avoided otherwise.

Why? Because charging a battery too quickly reduces its storage capacity.

Physically, the shuttling of lithium metal and lithium ions between the electrodes in lithium-ion batteries is a slow process. Therefore, charging at lower rates allows more complete shuttling to occur, which enhances the battery’s charge capacity.

For example, charging a phone in five minutes compared with the standard two hours can reduce the battery capacity for that charge cycle by more than 20%.


Read more: How to make batteries that last (almost) forever


Keep the temperature just right

Fortunately, for most parts of the country, temperatures in Australia sit between 0℃ and 45℃ throughout the year. This is the exact range in which lithium-ion batteries can be stored to maintain optimal long-term charge capacity.

Below 0℃, the amount of power available within the battery system is reduced because of a restriction in the movement of lithium metal and lithium ions within the electrodes and through the electrolyte.

Above 45℃, the amount of power available is actually enhanced compared with lower temperatures, so you can get a little more “juice” from your battery under hotter conditions. However, at these temperatures the degradation of the battery is also greatly accelerated, so over an extended period of time its ability to store charge will be reduced.

As a result, phones should be kept out of direct sunlight for prolonged periods, especially in summer when surface temperatures can increase to above 70℃.

Mobile phones only have a limited number of charge cycles before the battery loses its capacity to recharge entirely.
www.shutterstock.com

Use battery-saving modes

Aaron Carroll and Gernot Heiser from Data61 analysed the power consumption of different smartphone components under a range of typical scenarios.

They concluded there are a handful of simple software and hardware strategies that can be used to preserve battery life.

  • Reduce screen brightness. The easiest way to conserve battery life while maintaining full function is to reduce the brightness of the screen. For devices such as mobile phones that have an organic light emitting diode (OLED) display, you can also use the “light on dark” option for viewing.

  • Turn off the cellular network or limit talk time. The connection to the cellular network uses the global system for mobile communication (GSM) module. The GSM is the most dominant energy-consuming component in a mobile phone, so it is beneficial to turn it off altogether or at least limit call time.

  • Use Wi-Fi, not 4G. With Wi-Fi being up to 40% less power-hungry than 4G for internet browsing, turning off cellular data and using Wi-Fi instead will help your battery life.

  • Limit video content. Video processing is one of the most power-consuming operations on a mobile device.

  • Turn on smart battery modes. All modern mobile devices have a smart battery saving mode (for instance, Android has Power Saving Mode and iOS has Low Power Mode). These software features modify central processing unit (CPU) usage for different apps, screen brightness, notifications and various hardware options to reduce energy consumption.

  • Use Airplane mode. This mode typically disables GSM, Wi-Fi, bluetooth and GPS functions on your devices. When turning off all such auxiliary functions, the device will use only up to 5% of its usual energy consumption with the screen off. For comparison, simply having your device in idle can still use more than 15%.

Enhancing your phone’s battery usability requires a combination of limiting the use of power-hungry hardware and software, as well as handling mobile devices so as to maximise the charge capacity and minimise battery degradation.

The ConversationBy adopting these simple strategies, users can extend their battery life by more than 40% in any given day while maintaining a more consistent battery capacity throughout the lifetime of the device.

Jacek Jasieniak, Associate Professor of Materials Science & Engineering and Director of the Monash Energy Materials & Systems Institute (MEMSI), Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.