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Home Affairs still the ‘baddest’ at handling Australian stored communications

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(Image: APH)

Seven months after its long-stalled examination of how 20 agencies across federal and state government in Australia handled stored communications and metadata over the 2016-17 financial year, the Commonwealth Ombudsman has released its 2017-18 edition [PDF].

Despite seeing fewer problems for 2017-18, the Ombudsman issued one recommendation to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), discussed a number of previous recommendations with Home Affairs, and found eight of 17 agencies that were inspected had instances of failing to comply with destruction of stored communication requirements.

For the AFP, the Ombudsman found 23 instances where authorisation was made under missing person laws despite the case being related to criminal law, and another two cases where authorisations under provisions to protect public revenue also related to enforcing criminal law.

The federal police also disclosed 563 instances of authorisations made by authorised officers that were subsequently rejected by an internal quality assurance process, and 73 instances where authorisations were notified to telcos with errors.

“Our Office also identified four instances where records reflected less than one minute had lapsed between the request being sent to the authorised officer and the return response making the authorisation,” the Ombudsman said.

“Given the range of matters requiring consideration by authorised officers, this timeframe calls into question whether the requirements could have been met.”

See also: Australian government, spooks, and industry all on different cyber pages

The authorisation errors were made by a number of officers across a number of teams, the report said.

“This means the errors cannot be attributed to an individual, team, or process, but rather, indicate AFP staff do not have a well-embedded appreciation of the requirements of the [Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act] (TIA Act) and the individual responsibility of authorised officers,” the Ombudsman said.

“We note this was also a contributing factor to the breach of the journalist information warrant provisions, which was disclosed by the AFP in April 2017.”

The Ombudsman recommended the AFP implement processes to ensure authorised officers have regard to required consideration for authorisations.

In response, the AFP said it had released a mandatory training package in November 2017, and expects the number to fall for 2018-19.

A subsequent Ombudsman report into the April 2017 incident said AFP officers did not fully appreciate their responsibilities when using metadata powers.

Not again: ACT Policing had an unauthorised metadata access party 3249 more times in 2015

For Home Affairs, of which the AFP is a part, the department told the Ombudsman it had issued a series of 56 historic domestic preservation notices to one telco over consecutive periods for the same person of interest. However, the Ombudsman found 100 notices.

“While this practice is not strictly in breach of any legislative provision, in our view it has a similar effect to giving an ongoing preservation notice,” the report said.

“Home Affairs is not authorised to give ongoing notices because it is not an interception agency.”

In the prior installment of the report released in 2017, which covered the 2015-16 financial year, Australian Customs was handed the only three recommendations contained within the report.

“In our view, Customs does not have sufficient processes in place to demonstrate that it is only dealing with lawfully accessed stored communications,” the report said.

On the recommendations made previously, the Ombudsman said his office would continue to monitor Home Affairs’ continuing remedial action.

An area the Ombudsman identified as getting worse was in complying with destruction of stored communications requirements.

From 26 instances last year, the figure jumped to 134 instances in 2017-18.

State agencies were particularly to blame, with the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission having 10 instances, Queensland Police with 18, Northern Territory Police had 23 instances, and Western Australia Police had 19.

Tasmania Police was a runaway infringer, with a final figure of 53 instances.

The Ombudsman also pointed out a number of agencies had accessed telco data outside of the TIA Act by using other legislated powers.

“Our Office is not aware of any statutory external oversight of any disclosure of telecommunications data that may occur outside an authorisation made under the TIA Act,” the Ombudsman said.

While the Commonwealth Ombudsman could use his own powers to inspect federal agencies, the report said, oversight would still be lacking for state agencies.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton recently appeared in a video labelled as “the baddest MP”.

Related Coverage

Home Affairs floats making telcos retain MAC addresses and port numbers

Soon it might just be easier for Australia’s telcos to keep a copy of every TCP or UDP header for the cops to poke through.

Employees not the target of encryption laws: Home Affairs

Australian developers really do need to relax. Cops and spooks are being told very clearly that the Assistance and Access Act isn’t for dragooning you into deceiving your bosses.

Home Affairs says no problems with encryption laws even though local companies suffer

The department said it is however ‘focused’ on addressing the negative perception of Australia’s encryption laws, saying companies actually lack a clear understanding of the obligations within legislation.

Canberra to establish content blocking regime for crisis events

eSafety Commissioner to decide what Australians shouldn’t see.

Australian Taxation Office really wants its access to telco metadata returned

ATO claims a lack of access to retained metadata of Australians has impacted its criminal cases to the tune of an average AU$10,770 per investigation.

Australia is getting a new cybersecurity strategy

Feedback from consultation will be used to form a superseding document to the 2016 Cyber Security Strategy.



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GM is throwing even more money at EVs and autonomous vehicles

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General Motors plans to dramatically increase its spend on electric vehicles and autonomous driving, pledging $35 billion through 2025 as it races to bring new EVs to market. The company had previously said it would spend $27 billion in the same period, and will now pull forward battery manufacturing plans for its Ultium platform.

The goal now is to build two battery cell manufacturing plants in the US by mid-decade, to join the first plants that are currently under construction in Tennessee and Ohio. Right now, GM isn’t saying where it expects the new facilities to be located, or how much capacity they’re likely to have, with those details still to be confirmed.

As for the vehicles that will actually use those batteries, there GM is expanding its goals too. In November 2020, the automaker had said it planned 30 new EVs by 2025 globally; two-thirds of that range would be available in North America. Now, though, it’s adding new commercial products.

“GM will add to its North America plan new electric commercial trucks and other products that will take advantage of the creative design opportunities and flexibility enabled by the Ultium Platform,” the automaker said today. “In addition, GM will add additional US assembly capacity for EV SUVs.”

That US manufacturing component is key, given signs from the American government that future incentives and credits available to electric vehicle buyers will be dependent – in part – on where the car, SUV, or truck was built. According to the latest proposals, the maximum incentive of $12,500 would only be accessible for a vehicle priced at under $80,000, built in the US, and in a factory where workers are part of, or represented by, a labor union.

Location isn’t the only issue there. Although GM has revealed two Ultium-based vehicles, the GMC Hummer EV and Cadillac Lyriq, only the Cadillac looks set to come in at under that $80k ceiling. For GM to continue benefiting from the maximum incentives, it needs to figure out a way to make more affordable electric vehicles.

On the autonomous side of things, there GM has a number of fingers in the pie. Cruise, of which GM is the majority owner, already announced this week that it had secured $5 billion in credit from GM Financial in order to place a bulk order of the Origin AVs specially designed for its ride-hailing service. Revealed early last year, Origin – which has no traditional car controls – will be among the first Ultium-based EVs to go into production.

Cruise is also working with Honda, which co-developed the Origin, on an AV testing program in Japan. Honda, meanwhile, is co-developing two electric EVs with GM that will be based on Ultium. One of those will be branded as a Honda in the US, and the other an Acura.

It’s a time of big promises for automakers right now, as they tool up to try to carve out space in the growing electric vehicle category. Recent chip supply-chain struggles have threatened to put a dampener on those efforts, at least temporarily – GM said earlier this month that it would be cutting some features from its current vehicles, to work around shortages in hardware – but the reality is that none of the car companies can afford to slow down if they’re to meet both their self-imposed efforts and the requirements of legislators around things like emissions reductions.

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BMW X5-based hydrogen fuel cell prototype begins testing in Europe

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BMW has begun testing an X5-based prototype running a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain. Affectionately referred to as the BMW i Hydrogen NEXT, the prototype is an all-electric vehicle fueled by the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell. The German automaker firmly believes that hydrogen fuel cell technology can replace internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) as the future of mobility.

“Hydrogen fuel cell technology can be an attractive option for sustainable drive trains – especially in larger vehicle classes,” explained Frank Weber, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Development. “That is why road testing of near-standard vehicles with a hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain is an important milestone in our research and development efforts.”

BMW has unveiled plans of releasing a limited series of hydrogen fuel cell SUVs in 2022. The carmaker is on track to debut a small production run of hydrogen-powered BMW X5 SUVs by later next year. Proof of this is the launch of a real-world testing program for the BMW I Hydrogen NEXT.

Unbeknownst to many, BMW’s been dabbling with hydrogen technology since the early 2000s. The automaker released a limited production run of the BMW Hydrogen 7 luxury car based on a V12-powered 7 Series limousine. But instead of having a fuel cell and electric motors, the Hydrogen 7 had the same 6.0-liter gasoline V12 engine that runs on both hydrogen and gasoline, officially making it the world’s first production-ready hydrogen vehicle.

However, BMW only built 100 examples of the Hydrogen 7, and all were available for lease to selected high-profile clients only. BMW will aim for more than 100 private lease clients for its next-gen hydrogen fuel cell SUV, and the proof is in the pudding.

BMW claims the i Hydrogen NEXT prototype combines hydrogen fuel cell technology with BMW’s fifth-gen eDrive technology, the latter also found in the BMW iX3 and incoming iX and i4 models. Capable of generating a maximum of 374 horsepower, BMW’s hydrogen fuel cell prototype is churning out the same power level as the brand’s six-cylinder inline petrol engines.

Similar to Jaguar Land Rover’s Defender hydrogen prototype, the i Hydrogen NEXT has a performance battery pack that boosts power when accelerating while recovering energy from braking and coasting. The prototype has two 700-bar storage tanks made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) that collectively hold six kilograms of hydrogen.

BMW has partnered with Japanese auto giant Toyota in developing the fuel cell for its i Hydrogen NEXT prototype. The two carmakers have been working since 2013 to study and optimize the scalability of hydrogen fuel cells in future vehicle offerings.

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Lincoln pledges full electrification by 2030

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Lincoln will electrify its entire range by 2030, the automaker has announced, joining the industry shift toward ousting combustion engines in favor of zero-emissions. It comes after launching plug-in hybrid versions of several of its SUVs, with Lincoln promising to debut its first all-electric model in 2022.

By midway through this decade, meanwhile, Lincoln says it expects half of its global sales volume to be of zero-emissions vehicles. That’s ambitious, given right now the company doesn’t even have one such car to sell. Models like the Corsair Grand Touring offer a PHEV drivetrain, but the reality is that you only get 25 miles of electric range before the gas engine kicks in full-time.

Lincoln’s answer will be a new platform. It’s a newly flexible architecture, the automaker says, capable of underpinning rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive battery-electric models: Lincoln plans to use it for four “new and distinct” EVs. This is, it’s worth noting, different from the Rivian skateboard platform; Lincoln had originally intended to use that for its EV, but that project has been put on hold.

Exactly what form its first electric model will take, Lincoln is coy on. The obvious option would be an SUV or crossover, of course. Not only is that the direction in which the market – and Lincoln’s existing sales – is trending, bigger cars offer more space to accommodate larger battery packs.

However Lincoln has been flirting with other possibilities, at least in concept form. The Zephyr Reflection was a design exercise with the tastes of the Chinese market – a huge one for the automaker – in mind, revealed at Auto Shanghai 2021 back in April. Evolving the recognizable cues of the discontinued Lincoln Continental, but with altogether bolder styling, it was billed as a preview of what the brand could do in the future. Lincoln’s exterior tease of the new EV’s front light graphics seems to line up with what we’ve seen from Zephyr Reflection.

Meanwhile, that concept’s approach chimes with what the automaker is saying about its upcoming EV. “Evolving Lincoln’s design, the fully electric Lincoln will deliver a more spacious interior that creates the ultimate expression of the Lincoln sanctuary,” the company promises. “On approach, the exterior presents a striking, modern aesthetic, while the iconic Lincoln star evolves to meet an electrified future. Thoughtful details inside create a truly rejuvenating space for all, with clever storage solutions and minimalistic panels, while a larger, expansive panoramic vista roof enhances natural light and provides a more open, airy feel throughout.”

That’s a whole lot of design-speak, but there’s no denying that EVs do have clear advantages in luxury vehicles. Instantaneous torque but from a quieter drivetrain, along with less intrusion from mechanical components into the cabin, all make a lot of sense for a high-end vehicle.

Lincoln’s target is more aggressive than that of corporate parent Ford, it’s worth noting. Ford expects to have around 40-percent of its models electric by 2030, though it does a commercial range of work trucks to consider. Lincoln, in contrast, has a much more focused portfolio.

As for charging, Lincoln plans to borrow Ford’s strategy of collating other providers into a central interface. That’ll be the Lincoln Charging Network, with partners like Electrify America and others included into the Lincoln Way app. You’ll presumably also be able to access that through Lincoln’s new infotainment system, which it is building atop Android.

Finally, there’ll be Lincoln ActiveGlide, a hands-free highway driving assistance system. Like Ford BlueCruise, it’ll use driver-attention cameras to make sure the person behind the wheel is paying attention to the road, even if their hands aren’t on the wheel. However it will only operate on stretches of pre-mapped, divided highway. Ford plans an over-the-air update to deliver BlueCruise functionality to Mustang Mach-E and F-150 models with the right hardware package later in 2021.

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