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Australia passes law forcing tech firms to hand over encrypted data

, December 6, 2018, 0 Comments

encrypted-dataPassage of a law expanding Australia’s spying powers may have global implications for encrypted communications. Critics say the law may unleash unintended consequences.

Australia’s Parliament on Thursday passed a controversial bill that will force tech firms to give police access to the encrypted communications of suspected terrorists and criminals.

The law, which has been opposed by tech giants, has caused heated debate over national security and privacy at a time when governments across the globe are grappling with how to access encrypted information to monitor illegal activities.

Under the law, Australian security services can force local and international communications giants such as Google, Facebook or WhatsApp to remove encryption, help conceal government snooping and hand over data linked to suspected illegal activities. Police must still first obtain a warrant.

The new law passed the Senate after a last-minute deal was struck with the opposition Labor Party, which had demanded more oversight and safeguards in how the law is used. Under the deal, the coalition government agreed to add amendments next year. The bill passed the lower house earlier on Thursday.

The conservative government has argued police need greater powers to access personal communications to thwart terror attacks and organized crime.

Global communications firms have warned the law would force them to create vulnerabilities in their products that could then be used by other bad actors to gain a back door to users’ data. They are also concerned about how the law’s secrecy provisions will impact their business models and consumer privacy.

The Australian Law Council, a body representing the legal profession, supports giving intelligence agencies additional powers to ensure security, but it had warned of unintended consequences of ramming the bill through.

“Failing to properly scrutinize this bill risks unintended consequences which may impact on the privacy and rights of law-abiding Australian citizens, the media and corporate sector,” Arthur Moses, president-elect of the Law Council of Australia, said earlier this week.

The law has also raises questions about policy laundering through Australia, a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing group that includes the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

“There is an extraterritorial dimension to it, where for example the US would be able to make … a request directly to Australia to get information from Facebook or a tech company,” Queensland University of Technology’s technology regulation researcher Monique Mann told AFP news agency.

cw/amp (AFP, Reuters)