Facebook, Google and the Seven Eyes: implications for privacy

A look at the Australian government's efforts against end-to-end encryption: Facebook is oddly found among the good guys.

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The world’s two pre-eminent web giants, Facebook and Google, often get a lot of criticism from privacy advocates. Recently, however, the Australian government has been trying to get the two giants to stop using end-to-end encryption: and this has caused many people, who would not usually be friends to the web giants, to stand with them.

Last month the governments of the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and Japan issued a joint statement asking Facebook and other tech firms to stop using end-to-end encryption when handling their users’ communications. Australian Home Affairs departmental secretary Mike Pezzullo likened governments' attempts to deal with Facebook to the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars taking on the evil Empire.

"We are dealing with a galactic empire that has sought to basically disengage itself from the sovereign international society," he said.

There are those, of course, who’d point out that the UK/US/Aus/Can/NZ alliance - aka the “Five Eyes” - is quite literally born out of an empire, albeit one that its former members have freed themselves from. India, though not traditionally part of the Five Eyes, was once a part of that empire too. Japan wasn’t: on the other hand its head of state actually is an emperor. Maybe we could call this alliance the Seven Eyes.

Perhaps understandably there were those who saw the Seven Eyes as being more akin to the Galactic Empire than Facebook on this issue. Canberra in particular has faced a lot of flak over recent legislation which compels Aussie tech firms not only to spy on their customers whenever the government asks, but to keep secret the fact that they are doing so - on pain of going to prison. It’s an issue for technology firms worldwide, as most major nations have similar rules on their books, but the wounds are still particularly raw Down Under.

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