New law to force tech companies to hand over encrypted messages


The Australian government, with the help of the Labour party, has passed a new law that can compel technology firms to provide access to encrypted communications.

The new law, Assistance and Access Bill 2018, has been strongly opposed by tech companies and civil rights advocates. Forcing technology companies to create back doors to their customers encrypted content will reduce security and increase the ability for criminals to gain access to your data.

It grants law enforcement agencies in requesting access to digital communications by using particularly vague language.

The law has been rigorously opposed and is being justified by the same arguments that the previous liberal governments have used to justify invasions of privacy.

The Liberal party claim the law is only to be used in cases of terrorism or child abuse but the bill permits use in any case where there is a maximum penalty of three years’ jail or more. This includes significantly more cases than those used to justify the bill.

The new legislation calls on law enforcement to provide different levels of assistance:

  • Technical Assistance Requests: Companies provide voluntary assistance to aid certain agencies as they perform duties relating to “Australia’s national interests, the safeguarding of national security and the enforcement of the law.” 
  • Technical Assistance Notices: Requires companies to provide assistance that is “reasonable, proportionate, practicable and technically feasible.” Providers are able to use existing means like encryption keys to decrypt communications. 
  • Technical Capability Notices: Requires companies to build a new capability that enables it to provide assistance to law enforcement agencies and government bodies. The notice cannot force a provider to build or implement a capability to remove electronic protection, such as encryption.

The last of the above is the most contentious which forces technology companies to modify their software to make it less secure.

The Opposition Labour party, who supported the passing of the bill, has committed to amend the law in the new year. 

Australian technology companies are particularly concerned that the new law may limit their ability to trade in the European Union with their strict new privacy laws.

Image Source: iphonedigital

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