Speakers Censored at AISA Conference in Melbourne

Two speakers were censored at the Australian Information Security Association’s annual conference this week in Melbourne. Thomas Drake, former NSA employee and whistleblower, was scheduled to give a talk on the golden age of surveillance, both government and corporate. Suelette Dreyfus, lecturer at the University of Melbourne, was scheduled to give a talk on her work—funded by the EU government—on anonymous whistleblowing technologies like SecureDrop and how they reduce corruption in countries where that is a problem.

Both were put on the program months ago. But just before the event, the Australian government’s ACSC (the Australian Cyber Security Centre) demanded they both be removed from the program.

It’s really kind of stupid. Australia has been benefiting a lot from whistleblowers in recent years—exposing corruption and bad behavior on the part of the government—and the government doesn’t like it. It’s cracking down on the whistleblowers and reporters who write their stories. My guess is that someone high up in ACSC saw the word “whistleblower” in the descriptions of those two speakers and talks and panicked.

You can read details of their talks, including abstracts and slides, here. Of course, now everyone is writing about the story. The two censored speakers spent a lot of the day yesterday on the phone with reporters, and they have a bunch of TV and radio interviews today.

I am at this conference, speaking on Wednesday morning (today in Australia, as I write this). ACSC used to have its own government cybersecurity conference. This is the first year it combined with AISA. I hope it’s the last. And that AISA invites the two speakers back next year to give their censored talks.

EDITED TO ADD (10/9): More on the censored talks, and my comments from the stage at the conference.

Slashdot thread.

Posted on October 8, 2019 at 5:15 PM26 Comments


Godel October 8, 2019 6:57 PM

Australia has been benefiting a lot from whistleblowers . . .

Australian citizens may have benefited from whistleblowers, Australian Government and politicians, not so much.

Sok Puppette October 8, 2019 8:41 PM

Um, you are perceived as a leader in the security community, and you encourage it. You’re certainly very visible.

As a visible leader, do you really think it’s appropriate for you to be speaking at that conference under those circumstances?

I mean, unless you’re planning to give Drake’s or Dreyfus’ talk or something…

Bruce Schneier October 8, 2019 11:24 PM

@Sok Puppette:

I thought about cancelling, but decided that calling out the bad behavior from the stage would be more useful in that situation. I talked with both of them beforehand, and they agreed.

AISA was just as appalled as I was, I think. They were really stuck in a place where they had no choice but to acquiesce to ACSC’s demands.

Jason R October 9, 2019 12:33 AM

I’m of the opinion AISA lost its way several years ago. I thought the merger of the AISA and ACSC conferences was odd at the time it was announced.

It appears that now AISA has lost its independence as a result of this event, I expect they’ll likely struggle to find quality speakers for future events, time will tell.

Ismar October 9, 2019 1:59 AM

Welcome to Australia Bruce.

Sadly, this is just one in a series of whistleblower prosecution events unfolding in the last couple of years and it is very important that it should be brought to the attention of as many people as possible.

On the positive side, the cancellation has received a lot of attention from the local press and most of it critical of the government.

Time to vote the government out fellow Australians .

Michael October 9, 2019 2:39 AM

Sadly we just tried to vote them out and failed. Enough Australian’s seemingly don’t care about this sort of thing. “She’ll be right mate” has it downside as a political philosophy.

JonKnowsNothing October 9, 2019 2:52 AM

It’s a function of personal moral space

A) Leave on moral grounds
B) Stay and hope for change from inside

A tends to have the effect of Low Income causing all sorts of uncomfortable situations.

B tends to have a serious issue with “who are you going to change?” followed by “who are you fooling?”

Both A and B have subsidiary problems like: well its OK for 3Lets to do THIS to THEM but NOT do THIS to US. Which is called sitting on the fence in some places.

There are loads of others which if we work really really hard we can rationalize anything. It’s just 1 cookie….

To pay the Iron Price requires more substance and perhaps stupidity than most can summon up. Those that do are often D E A D quickly.

We saint them. We praise them. We do nothing different.

I don’t think our host is in Saint Mode.

Those that are, are found in Group A.

History shows there are a lot of Group A that are remembered; Group B – none.

Sed Contra October 9, 2019 3:09 AM

In these days, I have to constantly guard against compulsive listening to Moderat’s music.

Ismar October 9, 2019 3:19 AM

That is the problem with democracies isn’t it – people are easily scared into choosing an unwise option, some are just too selfish, some don’t care and are blissfully ignorant, the whole democratic process is prone to varying degrees of manipulation and so on.
Not sure that we have much choice but to continue educating each other by pointing out these government overreaches every time they happen and hope that in time we end up with a population that is ready to hold them to account.

me October 9, 2019 3:39 AM

Why don’t they livestream the presentation on youtube/twitch? or record it and upload?
i would watch it, comments are supported so people might also ask questions, like if they were present.

Samuel Johnson October 9, 2019 5:51 AM

There is no “EU government”. It’s an international organization not a government. Sorry, but this is important. The pathological hatred of the EU in much of the UK arises from this common misunderstanding. Maybe you meant the Commission? It governs nothing.

Petre Peter October 9, 2019 6:40 AM

It’s crazy that this is happening in Australia. It makes me wanna’ see their presentation even more.

Ch October 9, 2019 7:36 AM

@Samuel Johnson

I wouldn’t call it “organization”. EU organization scheme is more like “backdoor” or “exploit”. Or to be more precise, it’s like math magic. It’s set up so the outcome is independent on any “election input”.

JonKnowsNothing October 9, 2019 8:01 AM

Report highlight from

ht tps://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/oct/09/melbourne-cyber-conference-organisers-pressured-speaker-to-edit-biased-talk
(url fractured to prevent autorun)

“The move was criticised as “super weird” by a key speaker at the event, Bruce Schneier….”

“Security technologist Schneier said it was a “super weird story”….”

““My guess is someone at the ACSC saw the word ‘whistleblower’ and because that word is sensitive here, kind of freaked,” he said.”

Well… I’m kinda freaked that it’s kinda weird that this is kinda sorta how it was reported.. well super kinda anyway.

Simmon October 9, 2019 1:04 PM

Sounds like ASD is just fueling the conjecture angle on ‘whistle Blowers’ for publicity.

Standing up on stage @Bruce and detailing an ‘non approved’ symmetric cypher which has > 56 bits and non DEC & ASD approval would more than likely fuel media attention and Oz government slapping as well since it’s against the DTCA/DSGL & TOLA.

Patriot October 10, 2019 1:10 AM

One cannot help but notice that free speech is slowly being curtailed in Australia.

In this case, it is curious: why is the Australian government so afraid of whistleblowing?

JonKnowsNothing October 10, 2019 2:26 AM


why is the Australian government so afraid of whistleblowing?

I’m not an Aussi and I don’t play one on TV…

  • They are 5EYES.
  • They have their own immigration concentration camps (Manus Island and others)
  • They have internal issues with their colonial founding: past and present.
  • They implemented an increasingly draconian surveillance system against their own population and enforce a continuous poverty system(robo-debt).
  • They host some of the most intense surveillance systems directly on their continent (iirc western Australia houses USA drone navigational bases) plus interfacing with some other intensely intrusive systems (see Snowden and others)

There’s probably a lot more they don’t want anyone to notice but … it’s not working quite as opaquely as they would like.

ht tps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manus_Regional_Processing_Centre
ht tps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrelink
(url fractured to prevent autorun)

ConcernedAustralian October 10, 2019 6:47 PM

Welcome to Australia Bruce, we thankyou for your presence and wisdom.

Longtime follower of your good work and intelligent, thoughtful writings.

A Nonny Bunny October 12, 2019 2:32 PM


(url fractured to prevent autorun)

(url base64-encoded to make life more difficult)

JonKnowsNothing October 24, 2019 8:40 AM

A summary, not in presented order:

[The] Cybersecurity speakers cancelled for ‘idea’ of panel with Edward Snowden


Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC)…. the head of the centre, Rachel Noble, said she made the decision to cancel the speakers.

“The advice I made the decision on was a proposal for Dr Dreyfus and Mr Drake to [via video conference] have a panel with Edward Snowden. That was the first proposal,” she said.

“At that point my judgement was based on, I guess, the reputation of all of those speakers – that they are known public advocates for unauthorised disclosures or the leaking of classified information outside of legitimate or lawful whistleblowing schemes.”


Thomas Drake, along with the Melbourne university academic Dr Suelette Dreyfus, …were kicked off the conference agenda.

The pair were told their speeches were “incongruent” with the conference


Dreyfus said the suggested talk was merely a thought bubble in the initial stages of conference planning.

The speeches were cancelled at the last minute, long after abstracts of the speeches were provided to the conference organisers

ht tps://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/oct/24/cybersecurity-speakers-cancelled-for-idea-of-panel-with-edward-snowden

ht tps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Cyber_Security_Centre
(url fractured to prevent autorun)

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