Aus­tralia plans law to force tech gi­ants to de­crypt mes­sages

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

CAN­BERRA: The Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment on Fri­day pro­posed a new cy­ber­se­cu­rity law to force global tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies such as Face­book and Google to help po­lice by un­scram­bling en­crypted mes­sages sent by sus­pected ex­trem­ists and other crim­i­nals.

But some ex­perts, as well as Face­book, warned that weak­en­ing end-to-end en­cryp­tion ser­vices so that po­lice could eaves­drop would leave com­mu­ni­ca­tions vul­ner­a­ble to hack­ers.

The new law would be mod­eled on Bri­tain’s In­ves­ti­ga­tory Pow­ers Act, which was passed by the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment in Novem­ber and gave in­tel­li­gence agen­cies some of the most ex­ten­sive sur­veil­lance pow­ers in the Western world, the gov­ern­ment said.

The Aus­tralian bill that would al­low courts to or­der tech com­pa­nies to quickly un­lock com­mu­ni­ca­tions will be in­tro­duced to Par­lia­ment by Novem­ber, of­fi­cials said.

Un­der the law, in­ter­net com­pa­nies would have the same obli­ga­tions tele­phone com­pa­nies do to help law en­force­ment agen­cies, Prime Min­is­ter Malcolm Turn­bull said. Law en­force­ment agen­cies would need war­rants to ac­cess the com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

“We’ve got a real prob­lem in that the law en­force­ment agen­cies are in­creas­ingly un­able to find out what ter­ror­ists and drug traf­fick­ers and pe­dophile rings are up to be­cause of the very high lev­els of en­cryp­tion,” Turn­bull told re­porters.


“Where we can com­pel it, we will, but we will need the co­op­er­a­tion from the tech com­pa­nies,” he added. The gov­ern­ment ex­pected re­sis­tance from some tech com­pa­nies, many of them based in the United States. But the com­pa­nies “know morally they should” co­op­er­ate,” Turn­bull said. “There is a cul­ture, par­tic­u­larly in the United States, a very lib­er­tar­ian cul­ture, which is quite anti-gov­ern­ment in the tech sec­tor,” Turn­bull said. “We need to say with one voice to Sil­i­con Val­ley and its em­u­la­tors: ‘All right, you’ve de­vised th­ese great plat­forms, now you’ve got to help us to en­sure that the rule of law pre­vails,’” he added.

At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Ge­orge Bran­dis de­scribed the growth of en­crypted com­mu­ni­ca­tion ap­pli­ca­tions such as What­sApp, Sig­nal, Face­book Mes­sen­ger and iMes­sage as “po­ten­tially the great­est degra­da­tion of in­tel­li­gence and law en­force­ment ca­pa­bil­ity that we have seen in our life­time.”

Bran­dis said he met the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment’s chief cryp­tog­ra­pher last week and be­lieved it was tech­ni­cally pos­si­ble to de­code en­crypted mes­sages in a time frame that po­lice needed to act.

This could be achieved with­out so­called back doors - built-in weak­nesses that al­lowed a tech com­pany ac­cess to a com­mu­ni­ca­tion but could also leave it vul­ner­a­ble to hack­ers, Bran­dis said.

Face­book said it had a pro­to­col to re­spond to re­quests for po­lice help. But the so­cial me­dia gi­ant said it could not read in­di­vid­ual en­crypted mes­sages. “Weak­en­ing en­crypted sys­tems for them (po­lice) would mean weak­en­ing it for ev­ery­one,” a Face­book state­ment said on Fri­day.

Aus­tralia was a ma­jor driver of a state­ment agreed at the Group of 20 lead­ers’ sum­mit in Ger­many last week that called on the tech in­dus­try to pro­vide “law­ful and non-ar­bi­trary ac­cess to avail­able in­for­ma­tion” needed to pro­tect against ter­ror­ist threats.

The Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice say the pro­por­tion of com­mu­ni­ca­tion traf­fic they mon­i­tor that was en­crypted had grown from 3 per­cent to more than 55 per­cent in only a few years.

Po­lice say 65 per­cent of or­ga­nized crime in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­clud­ing ter­ror­ism and pe­dophile rings in­volved some kind of en­cryp­tion. —AP

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