Australia passes law forcing tech firms to hand over encrypted data

Blanche Robertson
December 7, 2018

"Let's just make Australians safer over Christmas", Bill Shorten said on Thursday evening.

The proposal, opposed by the tech giants because Australia is seen as a test case for other nations who want to explore similar rules, faces a sterner test in the upper house where there are concerns about privacy and information security.

Under the law, Australian security services can force local and worldwide communications giants such as Google, Facebook or WhatsApp to remove encryption, help hide government snooping and hand over data linked to suspected illegal activities.

Australian authorities can also require that those demands be kept secret.

While the Bill can still be blocked by the Senate - Australian Twitter has been quite vocal over today's proceedings, especially in regards to the ALP's involvement.

The government's Senate leader, Mathias Cormann, said the government had indeed agreed to revisit the issue in the new year.

"There has been similar legislation in the United Kingdom and possibly a few other jurisdictions but their legislation doesn't go anywhere near as far as what's happening here", said Mark Gregory, an associate professor specialising in network engineering and internet security at Melbourne's RMIT University. The legislation could force companies such as Facebook and Google to help decrypt such private communications.

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If the bill does become law, Australia would be one of the first nations to impose broad access requirements on technology companies, but others may follow.

The conservative government has argued police need greater powers to access personal communications to thwart terror attacks and organized crime.

"I will fight to get those encryption laws passed", Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra after Dreyfus spoke.

Representatives of Google, Amazon and Apple did not respond immediately to a request for comment by the Reuters news agency.

"This legislation is out of step with surveillance and privacy legislation in Europe and other countries that have strong national security concerns", the statement said.

National cybersecurity adviser Alastair MacGibbon said police have been "going blind or going deaf because of encryption" used by suspects.

Security experts are nearly unanimously against backdoors, precisely because of this weakening. They are also concerned about how the law's secrecy provisions will impact their business models and consumer privacy.

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