Published: Sat, December 08, 2018
Money | By Ralph Mccoy

Australia passes controversial encryption bill

Australia passes controversial encryption bill

Australia's ABC News notes that, before this, the Australian government already had the power to "obtain remote access to computer networks and their data" and "in some circumstances, law enforcement can also compel people under threat of jail time to disclose their computer or smartphone passwords".

"Let's just make Australians safe over Christmas", opposition Labour Party leader Bill Shorten told reporters outside parliament in the capital of Canberra.

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

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

However, the Parliament ended up passing the bill as it is on its last day before the summer break.

"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 bill is scheduled to become law before January, and will reportedly enshrine fines of up to A$10 million ($7.3 million) for institutions as well as and prison terms for individuals refusing, "to hand over data linked to suspected illegal activities".

Australia is the first member of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing pact-others include the U.S., U.K., Canada and New Zealand-to pass a bill of this kind.

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The Digital Industry Group, a tech industry association, said the law raised "the prospect of introducing systemic weaknesses that could put Australians' data security at risk". What they haven't done is brought us into their confidence of how we're going to get access (to encrypted data) - are they going to build a vulnerability in at the front door?

It differs from laws in China, Russia and Turkey, where services offering end-to-end encryption are banned.

Representatives of Google, Amazon and Apple did not respond immediately to a request for comment by the Reuters news agency. The bill passed the lower house earlier on Thursday. Australia is part of the Five Eyes security alliance, along with New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and the U.S. As such, this could cause wider reverberations that are felt internationally.

The unprecedented laws will bring an end to encrypted messages used in apps such as WhatsApp, which has around six million active Australian users every month.

A leading figure in cryptography, Martin Hellman of Stanford University, said it appears the bill would "facilitate crime by weakening the security of the affected devices".

"Encryption underpins the foundations of a secure internet and the internet pervades everything that we do in a modern society", said Tim de Sousa, of privacy and cybersecurity consultancy elevenM.

Apple refused, arguing that it would weaken encryption and it would create perilous privacy consequences for consumers. Australia and other countries have said that terrorists and criminals exploit this technology to avoid surveillance.

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