US whistleblower dropped from cyber talk

An Australian government-backed cyber conference has cut two key speakers, including a US whistleblower, amid concerns their speeches were "incongruous".

Thomas Drake and Melbourne privacy researcher Suelette Dreyfus were told just days before CyberCon was due to start this week that they were no longer needed.

The pair were booked by conference organisers last year, but were given only limited information when their places in the conference schedule were cancelled.

Mr Drake, a former US National Security Agency official who raised concerns about the agency's data gathering in the mid-2000s, said he was not even going to talk about whistleblowing but about the "golden age of surveillance".

However, without further reasoning from the Australian Information Security Association who is running the conference or government partner, the Australian Cyber Security Centre, Mr Drake thinks he was cancelled as a speaker because of who he is and that Dr Dreyfus was also targeted for discussing whistleblowers.

He described the move as "Orwellian" and criticised organisers for trying to silence the pair "based on our backgrounds and associations".

"It's surreal to me, I come all the way two days to get here LAX to Melbourne and I get off the plane knowing I can't speak but can be here as a delegate," Mr Drake told AAP.

Mr Drake noted the irony, that in the government trying to silence the pair, they had attracted greater media attention.

Dr Dreyfus said she had tried to find a solution with conference organisers but was stonewalled.

The University of Melbourne privacy and cyber security expert was going to discuss anonymous tipping technology as an anti-corruption tool for whistleblowers.

She told AAP the recent hacking of Victorian health services and the Australian National University showed more voices needed to be heard on cyber security, not fewer.

"You can't build a truly resilient cyber security posture for the country unless there's free and open exchange of ideas, of mistakes, of solutions," she told AAP.

"And by dis-inviting two experts in the field you are essentially narrowing the conversation."

The Australian Information Security Association and Australian Cyber Security Centre have been contacted for comment.

University of Melbourne Professor Mark Cassidy said it was disappointing Dr Dreyfus was removed from the conference's speaker list.

"We encourage and support our academics who share their research openly with the community. CyberCon is a strong opportunity to do so," he told AAP in a statement.

Austrlaian Associated PressBack to Breaking News

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