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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.
Schneier read out the URL for the website set up overnight hosting the abstracts of the two talks, as well as the slides from Drake’s proposed speech, and drew cheers from the crowd when he said they were “morally obligated” to go read them.
“The other lesson is if you make noise and ban something you’ll get more press than if you just ignored it.”
Alex Woerndle, deputy chair of the Australian Information Security Association (AISA), which organised the conference, said questions about the two speakers being removed should be directed to ACSC but said: “AISA supports and encourages diversity of views however it’s important to note we work with a number of partners, including government, and as such need to manage a variety of views to deliver an event catered for all our stakeholders.”
ACSC did not initially respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. Guardian Australia directly approached officials at the agency’s booth at the conference on Wednesday, and was later told that no comment would be provided on the matter.
The conference also banned media from attending a session where an official from Home Affairs explained the development of the government’s 2020 cyber security strategy. Non-media attendees said the talk contained nothing that wasn’t already public knowledge.
It comes at a time of public debate in Australia on whistleblowing laws and press freedom, following Australian federal police raids on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC over stories politically damaging for the government.
Former spy Witness K decided to plead guilty to breaching secrecy laws by revealing Australia’s spying on Timor-Leste while his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, is fighting charges.

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