New laws were passed last week which will give intelligence agencies the ability to access encrypted communications in apps like Wickr or WhatsApp. Over the weekend, a number of tech giants around the world have called out the rushed legislation for having “several critical issues”.
The Access and Assistance Bill will allow authorities to intercept encrypted communications with a warrant to do so. There are a few different ways this can be done, including forcing you to straight-up open your phone for officers, forcing app developers to either hand over data, or force them to build a backdoor into their own software.
While the Labor Party opposed the bill in its current form, it caved on 173 amendments to have the laws passed before Christmas on the condition that it be properly debated in the new year. Of course, the legislation is being sold to the public as a way to “keep Australians safe,” from terrorists and organised crime, Attorney-General Christian Porter said.
A group representing global tech companies Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, and Oath, says the laws have the potential to weaken and harm the data security of users around the world. While authorities need to obtain a warrant to access data, no further judicial oversight is required throughout, which is something the group says is “deeply concerning”.
Greens‘ Senator Jordon Steele-John has also expressed concern over the legislation, calling it “an affront to privacy and democracy”.
“Far from being a ‘national security measure’ this bill will have the unintended consequence of diminishing the online safety, security and privacy of every single Australian,” he said in a tweet.
[1/2] That's that. Debate on the #AAbill will be guillotined at 6pm. I've said my bit. I think I've said most of it on here anyway – the #Greens oppose this dangerous anti- #encryption nonsense in its entirety. It is an affront to privacy and to democracy #Auspol— Senator Jordon Steele-John (@Jordonsteele) December 6, 2018
Far from being a 'national security measure' this bill will have the unintended consequence of diminishing the online safety, security and privacy of every single Australian #AAbill #encryption #Auspol https://t.co/S3qeTSmOUe— Senator Jordon Steele-John (@Jordonsteele) December 5, 2018
In other words, there are concerns that weakened encryption will make it even easier for criminals to do dodgy shit. Another campaign group known as the Reform Government Surveillance Coalition is urging The Government to make the legislation clearer. The group, which represents Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, Snap, and Twitter, says the laws are “deeply flawed, overly broad, and lacking in adequate independent oversight over the new authorities.”
Like previous data retention legislation, there are concerns the new bill gives authorities too much power with too little judicial oversight, as well as opens the door for more Big Brother-styled policing.
“This new law will dramatically increase the access of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to the private communications of ordinary Australians, with implications for our right to privacy and freedom of expression,” Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow said, calling for stronger safeguards and independent oversight.
Last month, Apple sent a letter to the Australian Government which argued that the bill would “allow the government to order the makers of smart home speakers to install persistent eavesdropping capabilities into a person’s home, require a provider to monitor the health data of its customers for indications of drug use, or require the development of a tool that can unlock a particular user’s device”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says he’s confident his amendments will be pushed through in February. Hopefully, they provide more safeguards and oversight to the encryption laws.