October 9, 2019

SOMETHING STRANGE DOWNUNDER: Melbourne cyber conference organisers pressured speaker to edit ‘biased’ talk.

Organisers at the Australian Cyber Conference in Melbourne asked a speaker to edit his speech on Australia’s anti-encryption legislation, after they had dropped two other speakers, who were delivering talks related to whistleblowing, from the line-up at the last minute.

Guardian Australia has learned that Ted Ringrose, partner with legal advice firm Ringrose Siganto was told to edit his speech, and conference organisers had sent him an edited version of his slide pack on his talk stating that the original version was “biased”.

He said they took issue with a comparison between Australia’s encryption laws and China’s, despite the fact that his talk points out that while Australia’s look worse on the surface, in reality it is “just about as bad”.

Ringrose said he pushed back at the attempted censorship and the conference organisers agreed to let him present his talk as planned.

This is in contrast to the decisions made regarding speeches by US whistleblower Thomas Drake and University of Melbourne researcher Dr Suelette Dreyfus.

On Tuesday it was reported former national security agency executive turned whistleblower Drake, along with Dreyfus, were kicked off the conference agenda in what Drake described as an “Orwellian” move by the conference partner, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).

The move was criticised as “super weird” by a key speaker at the event, Bruce Schneier, as Drake and Dreyfus set up a website detailing their now-banned speeches.

At the second day of the conference attended by 3,500 people in Melbourne on Thursday, Security technologist Schneier said it was a “super weird story” for Drake and Dreyfus to be banned from speaking at the event, because the speeches themselves were not particularly controversial.

“[Drake] was going to talk about basically surveillance. It’s the sort of talk I would do – government corporate surveillance and everybody is spying on all of us – nothing we don’t know,” he said. “[Dreyfus] was going to talk on work she did for the EU on building whistleblower platforms to reduce corruption in third world countries – kind of mundane.”

Schneier blamed someone within Australia’s peak cyber security agency for being concerned about the content of the talks.

“My guess is someone at the ACSC saw the word ‘whistleblower’ and because that word is sensitive here, kind of freaked,” he said.

As usual, of course, the talks will get more attention than otherwise.

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