Blockade Australia climate activist can’t use encrypted apps, must let police access phone – Michmutters

Blockade Australia climate activist can’t use encrypted apps, must let police access phone

Since late June, Greg Rolles must produce on demand his computer and mobile phone for police inspection, and tell them his passwords.

He is not allowed to use any encrypted messaging apps, like Signal or WhatsApp. He can only have one mobile phone.

And there is a list of 38 people, many of whom are his friends, who he’s not allowed to associate with in any way — even, another activist found, liking a post on social media.

These are the strict technology-related bail conditions imposed on some Blockade Australia climate protesters—a development legal experts have criticized as “unusual” and “extreme”.

The climate action network was linked to a series of protests earlier this year, targeting ports and freight trains in New South Wales, and a property where activists were gathered was raided by police.

More than 30 people were arrested for unauthorized protests and disrupting traffic, among other charges, according to police statements.

In April, the NSW Parliament passed laws with steep fines and jail time for activities that “shut down major economic activity”, including protesting illegally on public roads, rail lines, tunnels, bridges and industrial estates.

a person is held while police officers place handcuffs on the person
A Blockade Australia protester is arrested by NSW Police. Eleven activists were arrested following action in Sydney on June 27.(Twitter: Blockade Australia)

Mr Rolles was arrested in late June, when he was pulled off the street in Sydney for allegedly blocking roads and obstructing traffic.

As soon as he was released under the bail conditions, he deleted Signal and lost many of his contacts. Because he ca n’t use WhatsApp, he said he can no longer communicate with people in Afghanistan for whom he was organizing assistance with his church.

The vagueness of the encryption ban is also a concern for him. As well as barring specific apps like Signal and Telegram, it states “the defendant is prohibited from possessing or having access to an encrypted communications device and/or possessing an encrypted application/media application”.

Large swathes of the internet are encrypted, which simply means that information is converted into code to protect it from unwanted access. Apps from online banking to streaming services are typically encrypted.

“Encryption is everywhere because it’s a fundamental part of keeping modern communications technology secure and functional,” a spokesperson for Electronic Frontiers Australia said.

“[That includes] essentially any modern device, including laptops, mobile phones, ATMs, TVs, PlayStations, and government websites such as myGov, Medicare, and Centrelink.”

Mr Rolles said he was worried the provision could be read in its most strict interpretation.

“I’m quite afraid of how that’ll be enforced.

“I definitely always have that kind of background anxiety — will the police just knock on my door?

“If a police officer was a bit annoyed at me, could they say, ‘you’ve been making phone calls, that’s encrypted’?”

Mr Rolles has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

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Defense lawyer Mark Davis, who is representing some of the Blockade Australia activists, said the vagueness of the prohibition was concerning.

“It used to name the things you couldn’t have, and then they made it all encrypted communication,” he said.

“It could be you’re on your PlayStation.”

He also takes issue with the non-association rules, and the lack of specificity about what an “association” might be.


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