Australia's controversial anti-encryption bill passes into law

Lloyd Doyle
December 8, 2018

"There is an extraterritorial dimension to it, where for example the USA would be able to make. a request directly to Australia to get information from Facebook or a tech company", said Queensland University of Technology's technology regulation researcher Monique Mann.

A bill to force technology firms including Google, Facebook and Apple to give police access to encrypted data was passed by Australia's lower house of parliament on Thursday, pushing it closer to becoming a precedent-setting law.

"We now have a situation where unprecedented powers to access encrypted communications are now law, even though parliament knows serious problems exist", said President Morry Bailes.

Where a warrant has been issued to intercept telecommunications, the head of an interception agency can issue a "technical assistance notice" for a company to help decrypt said device.

However, the Parliament ended up passing the bill as it is on its last day before the summer break. Critics of the bill - and there are many, among them human rights groups, law groups, and cryptographers - say that it was rushed through Parliament despite vague language that leaves citizens vulnerable to having their data abused.

As terrorist attacks increased after 2014 amid the Islamic State's global push, Australian authorities saw themselves confronted with a challenge they shared with all other Western agencies: they could identify suspects, but accessing their communications to discover their intentions often remained impossible.

Labor's decision to back the encryption-busting bill - one of at least a dozen national security laws enacted by the Coalition government - has also angered lawyers, technology experts and the party faithful.

"According to Reuters, member countries in the "Five Eyes" intelligence network (the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand) have been pressing for this type of legislation, and, "...have each warned that national security was at risk because authorities were unable to monitor the communications of suspects".

"The government has agreed to facilitate consideration of these amendments in the new year", Senator Cormann said.

Supporters of the bill have defended its extended powers by saying the government is not allowed to create "systemic weaknesses" with these encryption backdoors.

The proposed laws could also scupper cooperation with United States authorities because they lack sufficient privacy safeguards, Dreyfus said.

The laws could also have broader implications for trust in Australia's software industry, says Chris Culnane, a cybersecurity expert and lecturer at the University of Melbourne.

The suspect would not even know if they're being spied on because the company can not tell anyone.

Australia is the first member of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing pact-others include the U.S., U.K., Canada and New Zealand-to pass a bill of this kind.

He noted that the opposition Labor Party "had to be dragged to the table" and backed the legislation as an emergency measure out of concern extremists could target Christmas-New Year crowds.

It differs from laws in China, Russia and Turkey, where services offering end-to-end encryption are banned. "This is not about politics, this is about Australia's national security", Mr Morrison told reporters.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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