Culture 3 mins read

New Australian Law to Disable Encryption Protections of Tech Companies

A newly passed Australian law will allow law enforcement in the country to disable the encryption protections of any individuals' private messages or media.

Australian flag seen flying in Toowoomba, Queensland. | lachlan Fearnley | Wikimedia Commons

Australian flag seen flying in Toowoomba, Queensland. | lachlan Fearnley | Wikimedia Commons

A new Australian law will now enable authorities to gain access to encrypted conversations of suspected criminals in the country.

On Thursday, lawmakers in Australia passed the Telecommunications Access and Assitance Bill. This controversial bill will allow law enforcement agencies to access encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and iMessage. According to authorities, the new Australian law will help strengthen the country’s anti-terrorism and crime efforts.

Despite the ‘good’ intention behind its passing, technology companies and civil liberties groups expressed their disapproval of the bill. Both parties claimed that such a law is dangerous and will ultimately affect businesses and people relying on secure communications.

“I think it’s detrimental to Australian and world security,” Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity expert affiliated with IBM and Harvard University, said“There is a lot here that doesn’t make any sense. This is a technological law written by non-technologists, and it’s not just bad policy. In many ways, I think it’s unworkable.”

How the New Australian Law Works

The new Australian Law will supposedly fortify the cooperation between leading industries and the government. It was inspired by the ‘Assistance and Access Bill‘ and revolves around three levels of assistance which include:

  • Technical Assistance Notice: a notice issued to technology companies, asking them to disable security encryptions provided they can perform said task.
  • Technical Capability Notice: a legal directive to technology companies to “build new capability” in support of law enforcement. This will require the companies to comply without the need to remove any electronic protection like encryptions.
  • Technical Assistance Request: this will call on technology companies to provide “voluntary assistance” to authorities with the purpose of “safeguarding of national security and the enforcement of the law.”

According to privacy advocates, the new law – which is the first of its kind – will severely compromise the security of regular app users. Furthermore, it will also make tech companies wary of doing business in Australia.

“I think it’s right for governments to be tackling the issue of how to do effective investigations in the digital environment,” Daniel Weitzner, MIT’s Internet Policy Research Initiative director, said in an interview.

“If a company that does business globally is suddenly told by the Australian government that it has to weaken its security, then it may think twice about whether it’s worth being in the Australian market.”

At the moment, a similar approach is being pushed by law enforcement agencies in the United States, compelling Silicon Valley giants like Facebook, Google, and Apple to share encrypted information to authorities.

Are you in favor of authorities gaining access to encrypted conversations anytime? Why or why not?

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Rechelle Ann Fuertes

Rechelle is an SEO content producer, technical writer, researcher, social media manager, and visual artist. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with family and friends.

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