Australia’s spies get new powers to access Whatsapp messages
AUSTRALIA has passed a law that will allow spies to snoop on encrypted messages on services such as Whatsapp – a world first that has alarmed privacy advocates and the tech industry.
Under the legislation, police and the intelligence agencies can force technology companies – including overseas giants such as Facebook and Whatsapp – to remove encrypted protection for people under investigation.
Canberra says the laws are needed to intercept communications between serious and dangerous criminals, including terrorists and paedophiles.
Alastair Macgibbon, the government’s cyber-security adviser said the state had been able to lawfully intercept telephone calls for almost half a century and needed the new powers to keep pace with the modern world.
The legislation was rushed through parliament late on Thursday night, on the last day of sitting for the year, after the opposition Labor Party agreed to drop amendments in the interest of public safety over the Christmas break.
“I think these laws were rushed,” Bill Shorten, the party leader, admitted yesterday.
The Law Council of Australia, Australia’s top legal body, said the legislation “rammed” through parliament left open the possibility of “overreach”
‘This legislation is out of step with surveillance and privacy legislation in Europe and other countries’
from police and intelligence officials.
The council was concerned that the new laws could circumvent the need for authorities to get a warrant, while people could be detained in some circumstances without being allowed to contact a lawyer.
“It’s not just the rights of citizens that are potentially compromised by this outcome, but intelligence agencies and law enforcement that are at risk of acting unlawfully,” said Morry Bailes, the council president.
Digital Industry Group Inc, a nonprofit body that represents Google, Facebook and Twitter, said the laws were unnecessary.
“This legislation is out of step with surveillance and privacy legislation in Europe and other countries that have strong national security concerns,” said the group.
Mr Bailes added that the security committee process has been “politicised” with the legislation, adding: “The committee must now be given the time it needs to ensure there are no unintended consequences, which could be to the detriment of us all.
“Next year, as well as passing the remaining amendments, the intelligence and security committee needs to be brought back into the frame to get these laws right.”