Blockade Australia climate activist can’t use encrypted apps, must give police access to phone – ABC News | Hot Mobile Press

Since the end of June, Greg Rolles has been required to show his computer and mobile phone to the police checkpoint and give them his passwords.

He must not use encrypted messaging apps like Signal or WhatsApp. He can only have one cell phone.

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

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

The climate protection 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 had gathered was raided by police.

According to the police, more than 30 people were arrested for unauthorized protests and obstructing traffic, among other things.

In April, the NSW Parliament passed legislation imposing hefty fines and jail terms for activities that “bring a halt to vital economic activity”, including illegal protests on public roads, railways, tunnels, bridges and industrial areas.

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

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

Once released on bail, he deleted Signal and lost many of his contacts. Because he can’t use WhatsApp, he can no longer communicate with people in Afghanistan, for whom he organizes help with his church.

He is also concerned about the vagueness of the encryption ban. In addition to blocking certain apps such as Signal and Telegram, it states that “the defendant is prohibited from possessing or accessing an encrypted communication device and/or possessing an encrypted application/media application”.

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

“Encryption is everywhere because it is a fundamental part of the security and functionality of modern communications technology,” said a spokesman for Electronic Frontiers Australia.

“[That includes] essentially every modern device including laptops, cell phones, ATMs, televisions, PlayStations and government websites such as myGov, Medicare and Centrelink.

Mr Rolles said he was concerned the provision could be read in its strictest interpretation.

“I’m quite scared of how this will be enforced.

“I definitely always have that kind of background anxiety – are the police going to just knock on my door?

“If a police officer was a little annoyed with me, could he say, ‘You made the call, it’s encrypted’?”

Mr Rolles has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

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Defender Mark Davis, who represents some Blockade Australia activists, said the vagueness of the ban was worrying.

“It used to name the things you couldn’t have, and then they would communicate everything in encrypted form,” he said.

“You might be on your PlayStation.”

He also criticizes the non-association rules and the lack of specificity about what an “association” might be.

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