Attorney General George Brandis declared “Villain” by Access Now for comments undermining encryption

Today, Access Now recognized Australian Attorney General George Brandis as a Villain among the annual Heroes and Villains Award recipients for his comments in opposition to strong digital security tools like encryption. As a leading official representing Australia in the notorious “Five Eyes” partnership, Attorney General Brandis has pushed publicly for requirements for companies to implement measures to allow law enforcement to bypass encryption protections for exceptional access to digital content. This type of access has been repeatedly demonstrated to undermine digital security globally, including and especially for the users in marginalized communities.

“Attorney General Brandis’ attempts to limit the development and use of the strong encryption we all rely on in an increasingly digital world only serves to infringe upon basic human rights, harm digital security, and hurt Australia’s standing in the eyes of the world,” said Amie Stepanovich, Global Policy Counsel at Access Now.

Previously, Attorney General Brandis had championed Australia’s “terror laws,” three pieces of legislation, including 2015’s controversial data retention law, which together form a broad surveillance framework.

Digital Rights Watch Chair Tim Singleton Norton received a special mention as a ‘Hero’ in the 2017 awards.

“It is welcoming to see an international spotlight focused on the actions of the Australian government in relation to digital rights. A dangerous global precedent is being set by the actions of Attorney General Brandis that we do not want to see replicated elsewhere. Mandatory data retention, website blocking scheme, expansion of terror powers and facial biometric databases – these are all steps too far and not the society we want to be building,” said Mr Singleton Norton.

Human rights are universal — including on the internet. To defend our privacy, in 2013 experts identified 13 principles governments must follow to ensure any electronic surveillance program fully respects human rights. They are known as the Necessary and Proportionate Principles. In celebration of those principles and the work of people around the world to protect digital rights, every year Access Now names “heroes” and “villains” who have either protected the principles of freedom online or worked to undermine them.

Previous heroes named by Access Now include U.N. Special Rapporteur David Kaye, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, and Edward Snowden. Read more about this year’s heroes and villains here.