New Australian Law Poses Risk to Encrypted Services

Australia encrypted data bill passes first hurdle

The Australian government's cyber security adviser Alastair MacGibbon said on Wednesday that authorities had been able to intercept telephone communications lawfully for nearly 40 years, and needed new powers to keep pace with modern technology.

The new laws will mean that if an Australian agency requests access to what it believes are criminal communications occurring over WhatsApp, Messenger or iMessage, the likes of Facebook and Apple will be legally obligated to decrypt their messages.

"We now have a situation where unprecedented powers to access encrypted communications are now law, even though parliament knows serious problems exist", president Morry Bailes said.

The move makes Australia's state the first to be able to break the end-to-end encryption of Whatsapp, with other Western governments including the United Kingdom having shied away from doing so in the face of fierce criticism.

The government was handed a last-minute victory yesterday, with opposition leader Bill Shorten and shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus scrapping plans to amend controversial encryption legislation.

Critics anxious that software vendors would be forced to put "backdoors", or secret access methods, into their products, which could be discovered and exploited by cybercriminals or nation-states (see: Tech Companies Bristle at Australia's Crypto Legislation).

Australia's parliament on Thursday passed a bill forcing tech firms to help the country's security agencies bypass the encryption in private messaging apps.

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Critics say it is flawed and could undermine security across the Internet, jeopardising activities from online voting to market trading and data storage. US law enforcement officials, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, are again pushing for legislation that would somehow give authorities access to secure communications.

Labor has backed down completely on its opposition to the Assistance and Access Bill, and in the process has been totally outfoxed by a government that can barely control the floor of Parliament.

Mr Husic said this week's outcome was "not a ideal endpoint" and "there will be people who wonder why we did what we did".

"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. If by doing this there are "systemic weaknesses" that compromise security for everyone else, the companies won't be required to do so.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison leaves the House of Representatives after debate on amendments to the encryption laws.

Australia's decision is the most serious attempt by any national parliament so far to rein in tech companies involuntarily. This is not about politics, this is about Australia's national security, ' he told reporters.

The law council of Australia also expressed some concerns about the new law. Liberal lawmakers contended that the new powers were needed to protect Australians over the Christmas holidays, a soft intimation of a pending security threat.

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