Australia Passes Controversial Encryption Bill Despite Opposition From Apple and Other Tech Companies
The Australian parliament on Thursday passed controversial encryption legislation that could result in tech companies being forced to give law enforcement access to encrypted customer messages.
As we reported in October, Apple opposed the legislation in a seven-page letter to the Australian parliament, calling the encryption bill “dangerously ambiguous” and wide open to potential abuse by authorities.
Advocates of the bill, officially titled “Assistance and Access Bill 2018,” argue it is essential to national security because encrypted communications are used by terrorist groups and criminals to avoid detection.
CNET provided a breakdown on the Australian bill and the three tiers of law enforcement and state agency assistance it covers:
- Technical assistance request: A notice to provide “voluntary assistance” to law enforcement for “safeguarding of national security and the enforcement of the law.”
- Technical assistance notice: A notice requiring tech companies to offer decryption “they are already capable of providing that is reasonable, proportionate, practicable and technically feasible” where the company already has the “existing means” to decrypt communications (e.g. where messages aren’t end-to-end encrypted).
- Technical capability notice: A notice issued by the attorney general, requiring tech companies to “build a new capability” to decrypt communications for law enforcement. The bill stipulates this can’t include capabilities that “remove electronic protection, such as encryption.”
The Australian government insists that the laws don’t provide a backdoor into encrypted communications, however Apple says says the language in the bill permits the government to order companies who make smart home speakers to “install persistent eavesdropping capabilities” or require device makers to create a tool to unlock devices.
Likewise, the joint industry lobby group DIGI, which includes Amazon, Facebook, Google, Oath, and Twitter, said they were willing to work with the government to promote public safety, but the laws could “potentially jeopardize the security of the apps and systems that millions of Australians use every day.”
Apple has fought against anti-encryption legislation and attempts to weaken device encryption for years, and its most public battle was against the U.S. government in 2016 after Apple was ordered to help the FBI unlock the iPhone owned by Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the December 2015 attacks in San Bernardino.
Apple opposed the order and claimed that it would set a “dangerous precedent” with serious implications for the future of smartphone encryption. Apple ultimately held its ground and the U.S. government backed off after finding an alternate way to access the device, but Apple has continually had to deal with further law enforcement efforts to combat encryption.
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