Australia passes encryption breaking law, tech firms slam move

Postado Dezembro 08, 2018

The law council of Australia also expressed some concerns about the new law.

Australian law enforcement officials have complained that the growth of end-to-end encryption in applications such as Signal, Facebook's WhatsApp and Messenger and Apple's iMessage could be the worst blow to intelligence and law enforcement capability in decades.

Australian authorities can also require that those demands be kept secret. The opposition Labor party had tried to amend the legislation, but that would have meant continuing the debate into next year, so the party dropped its amendments at the last minute.

Labor leader Bill Shorten, in a press conference before the vote, said, "We offer to let it go forward, without the amendments which are needed ... provided the government agrees on the very first sitting day [in February], to pass the amendments we say are needed".

However, this proviso is one based on good faith and doesn't necessitate that any of the Opposition's proposed limitations - such as reducing the power to only federal level law enforcement - will be enacted by the government come the new year.

The bill is scheduled to become law before January, and will reportedly enshrine fines of up to A$10 million ($7.3 million) for institutions as well as and prison terms for individuals refusing, "to hand over data linked to suspected illegal activities".

It should be remembered for example that Australia is part of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing network that consists of the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, so any information decrypted there, would likely be shared among its allies.

Technical assistance request: A notice to provide "voluntary assistance" to law enforcement for "safeguarding of national security and the enforcement of the law".

Under Australia's legislation, police can force companies to create a technical function that would give them access to encrypted messages without the user's knowledge.

Representatives of Google, Amazon and Apple were not immediately available for comment after the Senate vote. "Several critical issues remain unaddressed in this legislation, most significantly the prospect of introducing systemic weaknesses that could put Australians' data security at risk", read a statement by the Digital Industry Group on Thursday.

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

Particularly after the surveillance revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, tech firms such as Apple, Google and Facebook have been encrypting more and more devices and apps, in order to convince users that they can communicate safely over them.

Security experts are nearly unanimously against backdoors, precisely because of this weakening.

In a submission to Parliament, Apple Inc. argued that weakening encryption isn't necessary to help law enforcement. "Those backdoors will be found and exploited by others, making everyone less secure", he said. They are also concerned about how the law's secrecy provisions will impact their business models and consumer privacy.