Published: Sat, December 08, 2018
Economy | By

Australia passes bill to force tech firms to hand over encrypted data

Australia passes bill to force tech firms to hand over encrypted data

The Australian Law Council, a body representing the legal profession, supports giving intelligence agencies additional powers to ensure security, but it had warned of unintended consequences of ramming the bill through. Australia is part of the Five Eyes security alliance, along with New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and the U.S. As such, this could cause wider reverberations that are felt internationally.

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. Such back doors are unlikely to remain secret, meaning that hackers and criminals could easily exploit them.

"Despite the pro-encryption passions in the government, Australians are showing their concerns about losing their online privacy by turning to VPNs".

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. "This is a technological law written by non-technologists and it's not just bad policy".

However, the Parliament ended up passing the bill as it is on its last day before the summer break.

PM Scott Morrison has said the legislation is needed to help foil terrorist attacks.

Amid farcical scenes yesterday as the government sought to avoid a humiliating legislative defeat relating to medical transfers for asylum seekers by adjourning the House of Representatives, Labor said it would vote for the unamended encryption bill in the Senate. 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.


There are also worries that Australia's move could spur other government to adopt similar laws with perhaps less oversight.

In the United States, Silicon Valley has so far resisted efforts by USA lawmakers and law enforcement agencies seeking to gain access to the communications of suspects in criminal investigations.

Australia's bill has security and privacy advocates anxious, especially in light of continued calls for similar legislation in the United States and other countries. Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin said it hampers criminal investigations at all levels. But it is, and could potentially put millions of users around the world at risk, with Apple saying: "It would be wrong to weaken security for millions of law-abiding customers in order to investigate the very few who pose a threat".

The company's iPhones, due to their strong encryption, are bulwarks of national security around the globe and help protect journalists, human rights workers and people living under repressive regimes.

A spokesman from the Australian Security Information Association (AISA) said they are "deeply disappointed" with the proposed legislation.

If legislation like Australia's becomes the norm in the west, crypto network service-providers could be the next ones targeted.

One apparent contradiction confounds technologists.

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