Australia’s new anti-encryption laws are bad news for Apple

Australian Bid for Encrypted Data Passes First Hurdle

"Over in Australia they're shooting themselves in the face with a shockingly technically nonsensical encryption backdoor law", declared popular systems security commentator SwiftOnSecurity. The government says the laws, a world first, are necessary to help combat terrorism and crime.

The laws are created to help security agencies and police access communications on encrypted applications like WhatsApp, which are used in an estimated 95 per cent of serious criminal activity. In other words, the government can compel a private tech company to spill the contents of private citizens' messages.

There are also worries that Australia's move could spur other government to adopt similar laws with perhaps less oversight.

Labor has agreed to pass the Morrison Government's legislation without amendments, meaning they will be locked-in before Christmas.

He also criticised Labor's decision to eventually support the law change.

Controversial laws rushed through the Australian parliament on Thursday came under attack by security and privacy advocates in Australia and overseas on Friday. Attorney-General Christian Porter said it all depends on whether those amendments "genuinely reflect the recommendations of the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security".

It followed a filibuster to prevent passage of a bill to help sick refugees on Nauru and Manus Island.

Until Thursday, it appeared unlikely that the upper house of parliament, the Senate, would agree to those provisions already passed by the lower house.

Australia had proposed the law in August this year, and it has now been passed by the country's federal parliament after lawmakers voted in favour of the Telecommunications Access and Assistance Bill late Thursday.

Australia flag parliament government
First Western World Country Passes Law Forcing Encryption Backdoors

"The commission, and the public, have not been given a sufficient opportunity to review and comment on yesterday's amendments prior to them becoming law".

Australia may not be one of Apple's biggest markets, but that doesn't mean that this new law might not cause problems.

The second, Technical Capability Notices (TCN) force the companies to install the equipment required to comply with TANs, whilst the third, Technical Assistance Requests (TAR) are voluntary requests for information that carry no penalty for non-compliance, but could be used to garner even more information that either compulsory rule.

The law would require that technology companies build features that would give access to encrypted data.

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.

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).

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".

There is also criticism over how fast the laws were passed.

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