Dangerous Australia Encryption Law Passed

Australia encrypted data bill passes first hurdle

Labor had expressed many concerns about the bill as it was presented and had previously shown opposition which was dropped in a "pass now, tweak later" arrangement. The third stage is also compulsory and demands companies proactively work to build mechanisms to help authorities collect information.

The bill, passed by the lower house of parliament earlier on Thursday, was to be debated in the upper Senate, where Labour said it meant to suggest new amendments, before going back to the lower house.

Thursday was the last parliamentary sitting day of the year.

"We will pass the legislation, inadequate as it is, so we can give our security agencies some of the tools they say they need", Shorten said.

Under the bill, companies that fail to hand over data linked to suspected illegal activities would face a fine of as much as 10 million Australian dollars ($7.3m) while individuals could face a prison sentence. "The government here can coerce the company to actually provide back doors into their systems and into devices and force the company to build systems that can help with investigations".

There are fears this could allow for policy laundering by its "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing partners - Canada, Britain, New Zealand, and the United States - who cannot enact similar powers because of constitutional or human rights protections.

Cyber-security experts argue that the data-encryption law could affect the privacy of users, which could potentially leave them more vulnerable to cyber hackers.

Under the law, Australian security services can force local and global communications giants such as Google, Facebook or WhatsApp to remove encryption, help hide government snooping and hand over data linked to suspected illegal activities.

Signal, WhatsApp and Wickr are examples of encrypted apps - their encryption prevents law enforcement agencies from reading messages intercepted under warrant while looking into crimes.

A Facebook spokesperson did not comment but rather directed Reuters to a statement on data privacy issued by the Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI), an industry association of which Apple, Google, Amazon, and Twitter are members. "On that basis, I commend the bill to this House for passage in this House-I say again on the basis that the amendments encompassing the recommendations of the intelligence committee will be moved in the Senate". "This is not about politics, this is about Australia's national security", Morrison said, according to Australian news site news.com.au. If by doing this there are "systemic weaknesses" that compromise security for everyone else, the companies won't be required to do so.

As reported by Fortune, the bill was condemned by security experts who claimed the "backdoors" would weaken security in the nation by creating "a target for other countries' spy agencies and corporate spies who might want to see what people are discussing".

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

Apple said in a public submission to legislators that providing access to encrypted data would necessitate weakening the encryption and would increase the risk of hacking.

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