New laws unveiled today will give Australian police and spy agencies more power to monitor communication via encrypted messaging services. While they won’t have total access to these services, the companies that run them could face massive fines for not complying with requests.
Law enforcers say the current antiquated laws were preventing them from holding criminals using encrypted messaging services to account for their crimes.
As the ABC reports, the new laws would allow agencies to request a kind of “side door” access to communication apps which would let them read the encrypted messages the same time it arrives at the receiver’s device. This kind of access relies almost entirely on whoever is running the messaging service.
Assuming they have a valid warrant to monitor an account, the relevant agency can submit one of three requests, the first being a simple, “hey, can you give us a hand” situation, which could just be to provide information on how the service works. The second is a compulsory request, which could land companies and individuals with fines up to $10 million and $50,000 respectively if they refuse to comply.
The third level of request requires the service to build its own infrastructure to allow agencies to monitor it if that sort of thing doesn’t already exist.
“We believe encryption is absolutely crucial to protecting Australians,” Cyber Security Minister, Angus Taylor, told the ABC. “So the legalisation explicitly excludes the potential for law enforcement to ask industry to create a weakness in their encryption systems.”
Mr Taylor also says any investigation would be conducted under strict guidelines and must be for serious crimes only.
“Those crimes in the case of a computer access warrant must be serious,” he told the ABC. “It’s not any crime, it’s got to be a serious crime. So it’s three years’ imprisonment or higher.”
The government says it doesn’t want to make encryption weaker, it just wants to be able to strong arm companies into giving them what they want. While it might make those concerned about things like terrorist attacks feel safer, we sincerely hope the laws are not abused by those in power.
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