Don’t waste time hiding NBN POI locations

‘Natsec’ too big for its boots?

Mobiles, electricity secrets

Mobile infrastructure is another problem. Australia’s regulations are clear on this: every licensed radio transmitter is recorded in a public database administered by the ACMA. You can buy a copy of it, if you want, load it into a database, display it on a map.

If you’re bidding for the Square Kilometer Array, radio information is important: it lets you prove that a joint called Murchison in Western Australia is, in radio terms, nice and quiet (on the basis of radio silence, Australia had it hands-down over South Africa, but I’m not privy to the deliberations so I don’t know what other considerations held sway).

And Murchison was, while remote, within tolerable reach of fibre networks, which could only be known if the networks could be mapped.

Even data centres, some of which are treated as secrets by some people, leave footprints all over the place. I know journalists who have signed non-disclosure agreements before they visit facilities whose every important move – construction and extensive fit-outs – has been documented by local councils in the form of development approvals. So the journalist, self-bound by a signature, finds him- or herself forever forbidden from discussing public information.

Let’s look again at the NBN Co POIs.

The information is bound to leak, because in the end, it will be known to thousands of individuals. If, in a fit of national security paranoia, someone decides that it should not be in a convenient Telstra exchange (location not only known but emblazoned on every building), but in the data centre next door, that will become known.

The industry won’t be able to function without knowing the POI locations. It’s utterly fantastic to imagine that the information won’t leak.

I’ve focused on telecommunications infrastructure, because that's the world I'm most familiar with, but similar questions apply to other “infrastructure of national importance”.

Take the electricity grid. At a superficial level, it might seem that the location of high-voltage grid facilities should be a national secret. Except: people piloting aircraft or helicopters need to know where powerlines are. Otherwise, they’ll fly into them anytime visual navigation isn't possible. Even with maps, powerline accidents are depressingly common.

National security types are apt to chase every rabbit down every burrow – which is great for expanding their budget, personnel and powers, but does precious little to protect us from real threats. ®

Bootnote: ZDNet journalist Josh Taylor dug out the "national security" quote from the joint parliamentary committee hearing on the NBN last night, here. The ACCC professes to have "particularly strong views" on. ®

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