First Western World Country Passes Law Forcing Encryption Backdoors

Mae Love
December 8, 2018

The Law Council said it was unacceptable that the laws were passed while so many in the parliament acknowledged there were ongoing problems.

"We will pass the legislation, inadequate as it is, so we can give our security agencies some of the tools they say they need", opposition Labor party leader Bill Shorten told reporters, according to Wired.

The legislation thrusts Australia to the heart of a global tug of war between tech companies and governments over privacy and security.

The new legislation forces companies to crack their own encryption when and if it's requested by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The third stage is also compulsory and demands companies proactively work to build mechanisms to help authorities collect information.

The Guardian reports that Labor passed the Assistance and Access Bill - voting against its own amendments - in the Senate late last night, while filibustering by Coalition senators, Cory Bernardi and Pauline Hanson helped stop offshore transfer legislation from moving to the House of Representatives.

"It's not just the rights of citizens that are potentially compromised by this outcome, but intelligence agencies and law enforcement that are at risk of acting unlawfully", said council president Morry Bailes in a statement.

Under the bill, any individual whot fails to hand over data could end up in prison, while institutions could be fined as much as A$10 million ($7.3 million).

Unlike the other members of the Five Eyes nations, Australia chose to the large majority of public comments stating opposition against this bill.

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Privacy advocates decry such a law, but the government has said that such a law is necessary to fight organized crime and terrorism, making Australia a safer place. USA law enforcement officials, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, are again pushing for legislation that would somehow give authorities access to secure communications.

"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". That affects companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter, and, yes, Apple.

The bill reportedly passed after Labour ministers agreed to do so at "the eleventh hour". Liberal lawmakers contended that the new powers were needed to protect Australians over the Christmas holidays, a soft intimation of a pending security threat.

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

On Thursday, Australia's parliament passed the most expansive bill of all Western countries that could force major U.S. tech companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook to provide authorities with access to such encrypted data.

Security experts are nearly unanimously against backdoors, precisely because of this weakening.

Apple refused, arguing that it would weaken encryption and it would create perilous privacy consequences for consumers.

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