Encryption bill becomes law after Labor backdown

Australia passes new data encryption laws

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 benignly named Assistance and Access Bill of 2018 amends various existing legislation to "establish frameworks for voluntary and mandatory industry assistance [italics own] to law enforcement and intelligence agencies in relation to encryption technologies..."

In the United States, Silicon Valley has so far resisted efforts by U.S. lawmakers and law enforcement agencies seeking to gain access to the communications of suspects in criminal investigations.

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.

These can require communication providers to build new interception capabilities that can meet the requirements needed to be able to comply with Assistance Notices.

Shorten said Labor is letting the Bill through provided the government agrees to amendments in the new year.

The civil liberties advocate's warning comes as Australian Information Security Association chairman Damien Manuel said the new laws couldn't even be implemented by Christmas.

Australia already has laws which require providers to hand over a suspect's communication to police.

Australia's national security was at the forefront of the debate, with Mr Porter telling the lower house the new laws are necessary to prevent terror events.

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Duncan Lewis, director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, noted during hearings that extremists share encrypted messages that Australia's main secret service can not intercept or read.

Eric Wenger, director of cybersecurity and privacy policy for the US technology giant Cisco Systems, warned during debate on the bill that Australia could be at a competitive disadvantage if its data were not regarded as secure. Amid protests from companies such as Facebook and Google, the government and main opposition struck a deal on Tuesday that should see the legislation passed by parliament this week.

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".

Australia's law is much more concerning though.

"It is also deeply concerning that the minimum safeguards Australians should expect under such unprecedented new powers - judicial oversight and a warrant-based system - are absent", the group said in a statement.

Despite mounting privacy concerns, the government said that the legislation will be limited to helping the police tackle crime.

The way the bill is worded, a law enforcement official could, in theory, compel a software engineer in charge of pushing out software updates to crack his or her company's own security measures, and do it in secret.

Australia is the first nation in the so-called "Five Eyes" alliance - also composed of Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Britain - to move ahead with legislation that will nearly inevitably result in a standoff with major private corporations.

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