7.14.2017

Australia Proposes Law That Would Compel Tech Companies to Decrypt Messages

Australia on Friday proposed new laws that would require companies like Apple to provide law enforcement authorities with access to encrypted communications (via Reuters).

Australia’s proposed legislation will compel companies to help security agencies intercept and read messages sent by suspects. It appears to take cues from the U.K.’s Investigatory Powers Bill, which includes provisions that require technology companies to bypass encryption where technically feasible.

“We need to ensure the internet is not used as a dark place for bad people to hide their criminal activities from the law,” Australian Prim Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

“The reality is, however, that these encrypted messaging applications and voice applications are being used obviously by all of us, but they’re also being used by people who seek to do us harm.”

The proposal will be introduced when parliament resumes in August and could be adopted within months, according to lawmakers. Other nations have said they will introduce similar laws.

Apple, along with Facebook, Google, and other major tech companies, have historically opposed such law changes, which they say threaten online security protocols.

For example, Apple claimed the U.K.’s recent bill would “weaken security” for millions of law-abiding customers. “The creation of backdoors and intercept capabilities would weaken the protections built into Apple products and endanger all our customers,” Apple stated in December 2015. “A key left under the doormat would not just be there for the good guys. The bad guys would find it too.”

Facebook rejected the need to introduce the new Australian law, insisting it already had a system in place to work alongside security agencies, while the new legislation could not be implemented on an individual basis.

“Weakening encrypted systems for them would mean weakening it for everyone,” a spokeswoman for Facebook told Reuters.

Notably, Australia has not explained how the proposed law would prevent nefarious actors from using open-source encryption tools to encrypt messages that can be transferred through conventional means such as email.

Last month it was reported that Australia attended a meeting of officials from the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing network, where it pushed for greater international powers to thwart the use of encrypted messaging services by terrorists and criminals.

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