IT gets boost in Australian budget

In a scorched earth budget that has spent A$8.39 billion (US$5.84 billion) of surplus taxation revenue to appease voters, the Australian government will spend more money than ever on new technology to nail down security — and new security to nail down technology.

Having leaked the government’s major information and communications technology (ICT) initiatives including renewed funding for federal R&D research shop Nicta and IT start-up capital fund BITS, the government’s security and regulatory agencies have emerged as the big winners in ICT funding this year.

While the new measures pale by comparison to the billions allocated to taxation relief and family incentives, treasurer Peter Costello has carefully invested more in the sort of IT that it hopes will deliver Australia protection from terrorist and criminal threats.

The Attorney General, ASIO, ASIS, AusCERT, Austrac, the Australian Federal Police, Australian Crime Commission, National High-Tech Crime Center, Departments of Communications and IT and the Arts, Customs, Defense, Foreign Affairs and Trade and even the Department of the Environment will all receive bolstered funding for either technology or information technology initiatives.

Datamining, information and infrastructure protection and biometrics have all come out on top, funded across a diverse range of portfolios.

Highlights include:

— infrastructure protection, security boosted again.

SIO will receive an additional A$127.3 million to enhance counter terrorist capability, including more resources for datamining, and technical collection capabilities such as VoIP and IP interception. The agency is known to have undertaken a substantial IT infrastructure upgrade over the last 12 months.

Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) — incorporating the National Information Infrastructure (NII) and the Trusted Information Sharing Network (TISN) will receive A$50.2 million in total over four years, with A$12.7 million slated for 2004/5.

The money will be spread across a range of portfolios including the departments of Customs; Communications, IT and the Arts; industry, tourism and resources; health and aging; tourism and resources; and transport and regional services.

Bank and telco chiefs will be briefed by the high level Business-Government Task Force on the current critical infrastructure security situation at its inaugural Business-Governmental Ministerial Forum on June 2. The event will personally involve the Prime Minister, members of the National Security Committee of Cabinet and intelligence agencies which will all deliver briefings to the private sector.

The creation of dedicated teams for industry sectors, establishment of secure Internet based communications system into private sector stakeholders.

AusCert will be expanded to work closely with law enforcement to provide “specialized national information infrastructure alerts and advisories for the owners and operators of critical infrastructure to remediate vulnerabilities”. Specific figures are not listed in the Attorney General’s portfolio budget statement. Penetration Testing, known as Red Team testing will be undertaken by as yet unnamed organizations on unspecified private or public NII assets to test for weaknesses.

The Attorney General’s Department will take on several additional staff to collect and analyze industry-sector-specific data to determine risks and review security arrangements. This will include the recruitment of staff to further promote protection of the National Information Infrastructure.

— spy satellites to plot failure.

Infrastructure Interdependence Modelling and Analysis is a nice way to describe plotting exactly what, where and when will go wrong in the event of “critical infrastructure failure”. Put bluntly, it appears to indicate that the computationally intensive project will initially draw on the resources of ASIO, DCITA and cartographers Geoscience Australia to scope the project over the next six months. Highly secretive spy satellite agency, the Defense Imagery and Geospatial Organization (DIGO), will also chip in with a “geospatial critical infrastructure incident response capability”, most probably harnessing its rather large SGI-driven supercomputing capabilities.

— clean data on dirty money.

Money monitors Austrac will receive another A$8.7 million dollars to further its financial data snooping capabilities, taking total funding to A$36 million over the next four years. The new funding should prove a boon for datamining and data warehousing vendors with much of the funding earmarked for “increasing the level of intelligence Austrac provides through the application of sophisticated IT solutions to Austrac’s financial data”.

The agency will also receive A$1.1 million for “IT mentoring and capability development” financial intelligence units in South East Asia to allow Australia’s neighbors to track and trace the funds of terrorists, people smugglers and crooks.

— bug early, bug often.

While the Surveillance Devices Bill 2004 is yet pass into law, The Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission will receive A$14.5 million “to enable them to use the new surveillance device powers provided (in the Bill) more effectively … specialist equipment will be acquired and staff will be recruited and trained in both operational and support roles,” according to budget papers. Generously, A$2.5 million extra has also been allocated to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to deal with the anticipated fallout. VoIP may be cheap for business but it seems to cost a bomb for enforcement authorities.

— biometrics bonanza.

Biometric applications research and development will receive A$9.7 million across the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Australian Customs Service and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA).

DFAT will get A$2.2 funding for prototype biometric passport trials to ensure “compatibility with equipment being used in the U.S.”, while Customs will receive A$3.1 million for its automated facial recognition system known as Smartgate.

DIMIA has scored the A$4.4 million of the biometrics kitty for “researching and testing the best way to incorporate biometric technologies into Australia’s existing advanced electronic visa and entry arrangements”.

DIMIA has also been slated to “develop a capacity to store and use digital biometric images to better identify its clients each time they deal with the department”, although budget documentation does not state whether the new system will be funded out of the DIMIA’s A$4.4 million.

— winning office.

In a clear sign the government is deadly serious about driving IT delivery, savings and efficiencies through its whole of government IT strategy, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) has come out a clear winner to the tune of A$20.115 million for its first year of operation.

At almost half the previous year’s budget for the National Office of the Information Economy, the funding represents an unambiguous message that government IT strategy and architecture will be managed in-house, on its own terms and that inflated prices and contracts from vendors will not be tolerated.

— telco and broadcast regulators merge.

The budget also contains many of the mooted changes to the Communications and IT portfolio — at least by name. Spectrum and spam cop the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) and its cousin and media cop, the Australian Broadcasting Authority, will be merged to form the awkwardly named Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The ACMA’s creation has carefully opened an exit clause for the ongoing controversy about ABA chair David Flint; however, a statement from Communications Minister Williams insists it concerns the expansion of 3G technologies as the reason for the merger.

“Maintaining two separate regulators, both dealing with similar issues but focusing on different sectors of the communications industry, is neither practical nor effective,” the statement said.

However, the budget documents reveal there will be no actual savings or consolidation of functions or roles between the two authorities for the time, making the merger a marriage in name only.

“The establishment of the ACMA will not be accompanied by changes to the existing regulatory and spectrum planning frameworks for telecommunications and broadcasting. There will be no immediate savings from the new arrangement,” the statement supplied by Williams said.

What the merger does achieve is the opportunity for the government to rapidly renegotiate its media and telecommunications policy before an election should it need to.

In pure dollar terms, ACA has been allocated A$56.4 million, with ABA A$16.4 million from a total departmental appropriation for DCITA of A$1.6 billion.

The amount allocated to the ongoing war on spam, either by the ACA or the Office of the Information Economy has not been listed in the portfolio agency statement; however, the figure is thought to be between A$1 million and A$5 million across a number of portfolios.

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