Published: Sat, December 08, 2018
Finance | By Loren Pratt

Australia encrypted data bill passes first hurdle

Australia encrypted data bill passes first hurdle

"There is an extraterritorial dimension to it, where for example the U.S. would be able to make. a request directly to Australia to get information from Facebook or a tech company", said Queensland University of Technology's technology regulation researcher Monique Mann. But in Australia, even that may not be enough.

"Should governments continue to encounter impediments to lawful access to information necessary to aid the protection of the citizens of our countries, we may pursue technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures to achieve lawful access solutions", the statement says.

The new laws will mean that if an Australian agency requests access to what it believes are criminal communications occurring over WhatsApp, Messenger or iMessage, the likes of Facebook and Apple will be legally obligated to decrypt their messages.

Duncan Lewis, director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, noted during hearings that extremists share encrypted messages that Australia's main secret service can not intercept or read. Amid protests from companies such as Facebook and Google, the government and main opposition struck a deal on Tuesday that should see the legislation passed by parliament this week.

On the same day it passed in the House of Representatives, the bill was introduced and passed in the Senate as it came to the end of this year's session.

"We're prepared to let it go forward on that basis knowing there's more work to be done", Labor leader Bill Shorten told reporters, according to the report.

The case made by the Prime Minister's government boiled down to one thing: terrorism.

"This ensures that our national security and law enforcement agencies have the modern tools they need, with appropriate authority and oversight, to access the encrypted conversations of those who seek to do us harm", Attorney-General Christian Porter said.

It followed a filibuster to prevent passage of a bill to help sick refugees on Nauru and Manus Island.

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

But in an eleventh-hour twist, Labour said that despite its reservations, it would pass the bill in the Senate, on the proviso that the coalition agreed to its amendments next year.

"The commission, and the public, have not been given a sufficient opportunity to review and comment on yesterday's amendments prior to them becoming law".

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.

As terrorist attacks increased after 2014 amid the Islamic State's global push, Australian authorities saw themselves confronted with a challenge they shared with all other Western agencies: they could identify suspects, but accessing their communications to discover their intentions often remained impossible.

He likened it to "President Donald Trump reading your mail over your shoulder as you opened it", and said the blow to encryption will make us "the laughing stock of the tech world".

There is also criticism over how fast the laws were passed.

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