Australia Passes Law Allowing Government Access To Encrypted Messages
Australia Passes Law Allowing Government Access To Encrypted Messages
Australia wants to compel tech firms to hand over encrypted data
08 December, 2018, 08:18
The law, passed on Thursday, will require tech companies to give police access to encrypted data.
The laws are created to help security agencies and police access communications on encrypted applications like WhatsApp, which are used in an estimated 95 per cent of serious criminal activity.
Canberra says the laws are needed to intercept communications between serious criminals, like terrorists and paedophiles.
The move makes Australia's state the first to be able to break the end-to-end encryption of Whatsapp, with other Western governments including the United Kingdom having shied away from doing so in the face of fierce criticism. Organizations receiving that kind of notice are compelled to build a new capability to give assistance to the government.
It initially looked uncertain on Thursday, the last sitting day of Parliament, if the legislation would pass due to opposition from the Labor Party.
The government has said the proposed laws are necessary to counter attacks by armed groups and organised crime, and security agencies would need to seek warrants to access personal data. "Now the Australian govt is considering laws that could coerce me to add backdoors", one user wrote.
The law, which has been opposed by tech giants, has caused heated debate over national security and privacy at a time when governments across the globe are grappling with how to access encrypted information to monitor illegal activities.
Cyber-security experts argue that the data-encryption law could affect the privacy of users, which could potentially leave them more vulnerable to cyber hackers. Under the proposed powers, technology companies could be forced to help decrypt communications on popular messaging apps, or even build new functionality to help police access data.
As MPs filed out of Parliament House, Coalition members expressed their "disappointment", while Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese blasted the bill as "nonsense legislation" that the government "still hadn't got right".
Australia's decision is the most serious attempt by any national parliament so far to rein in tech companies involuntarily. If by doing this there are "systemic weaknesses" that compromise security for everyone else, the companies won't be required to do so. They expect the government to amend the law in February, however.
Mr Husic said this week's outcome was "not a flawless endpoint" and "there will be people who wonder why we did what we did".
"There are legitimate concerns about the encryption legislation", the opposition leader told reporters on Friday.
There are also worries that Australia's move could spur other government to adopt similar laws with perhaps less oversight.
"But I wasn't prepared to walk away from my job and leave matters in a stand-off and expose Australians to increased risk in terms of national security". "What about the open source projects that will ask their Australian contributors to stop working on their security code, and businesses who will choose not to employ Australian developers, or decline to open offices in that country?" wrote Danny O'Brien, global director at the EFF.
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