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Australia passes law forcing tech firms to hand over encrypted data

08 December 2018

The Australian Parliament passed a bill this week obliging tech firms like Google, Facebook and Apple to turn over encrypted data sought in police investigations, Reuters reports.

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

Australian lawmakers voted in favour of the Telecommunications Access and Assistance Bill late Thursday.

Labor MPs, including shadow ministers, said Mr Shorten was placed in an invidious position by the Morrison government, which signalled it was willing to leave for the summer break with the laws sitting in the Senate unless Labor agreed to pass them in their original form. They expect the government to amend the law in February, however.

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".

The law has also raises questions about policy laundering through Australia, a member of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing group that includes the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

The Australian Parliament said in the description of the new law that it was a direct result of law enforcement agencies not getting the technical assistance they believe they need.

The civil liberties advocate's warning comes as Australian Information Security Association chairman Damien Manuel said the new laws couldn't even be implemented by Christmas.

Mr Porter says police and national security agencies will still require a warrant to access the encrypted messages.

Australia flag parliament government
First Western World Country Passes Law Forcing Encryption Backdoors

"There can be only one step after you've compelled the big companies to agree to your back-doors, and that is to criminalize those truly secure services who prefer to follow the "laws of mathematics" instead of "the laws of Australia".

Companies including Apple, Facebook's WhatsApp, Wickr and Signal have created systems for which the encryption and decryption keys are held only on the devices. "On that basis, I commend the bill to this House for passage in this House-I say again on the basis that the amendments encompassing the recommendations of the intelligence committee will be moved in the Senate".

In the statement, DIGI says the law ignores, "the prospect of introducing systemic weaknesses that could put Australians' data security at risk".

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

The Australian government has passed new security laws giving authorities the power to intercept encrypted communications.

"This could have a devastating knock-on effect around the world", said Jake Moore, cyber security expert at ESET UK.

AdvertisementThe country's newly passed laws mean that law enforcement officials are allowed to access encrypted messages when required. Australia and other countries have said that terrorists and criminals exploit this technology to avoid surveillance.

Several tech groups have serious privacy concerns about the laws, saying they will leave us more vulnerable to hackers.

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Australia passes law forcing tech firms to hand over encrypted data