Published: Sat, December 08, 2018
Markets | By Otis Pena

Revisions eyed for rushed Australia encryption law

Revisions eyed for rushed Australia encryption law

Back doors were central to a 1990s US effort to require manufacturers to install a so-called "Clipper chip" into communications equipment so the government could listen in on voice and data transmissions.

Eric Wenger, director of cybersecurity and privacy policy for the US technology giant Cisco Systems, warned during debate on the bill that Australia could be at a competitive disadvantage if its data were not regarded as secure.

Labor lawmakers said they want amendments passed when parliament resumes in February.

He said: 'It just shows Labor has given in to the law and order witch hunt politics in relation to terrorism - and all of our civil liberties have suffered as a result'.

In return, the government pledged to debate possible amendments next year.

Even Labor leader Bill Shorten, who helped vote the controversial laws in, has admitted he still has concerns. But he said his party passed it on the condition that the Coalition government consider amendments to it in January, according to a video on the ABC.

The Five Eyes intelligence network, comprised of the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, have each warned that national security was at risk because authorities were unable to monitor the communications of suspects.

The law creates three flavors of notices. Technical Assistance Requests are requests for voluntary cooperation. "Once the capabilities exist, there will be many parties interested in similar access". Although the new law requires companies to provide technical assistance and access to target communications, it does not have any language that would require vendors to build backdoors in encryption systems. What they haven't done is brought us into their confidence of how we're going to get access (to encrypted data) - are they going to build a vulnerability in at the front door?

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A Facebook spokesperson did not comment but rather directed Reuters to a statement on data privacy issued by the Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI), an industry association of which Apple, Google, Amazon, and Twitter are members.

Mr Porter also said police and national security agencies will still require a warrant to access the encrypted messages.

One alternative is to seize a suspect's phone, and then authorities could try to persuade the person to turn over their passcode.

When the Federal Bureau of Investigation asked Apple in 2015 to unlock the phone of one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack, Apple declined, citing the threat of such a back door. And many providers, most notably Apple CEO Tim Cook, have said publicly that they won't compromise users' security in the name of government surveillance.

The way the bill is worded, a law enforcement official could, in theory, compel a software engineer in charge of pushing out software updates to crack his or her company's own security measures, and do it in secret.

It also may not be evident when the powers are invoked.

Whereas regulatory scrutiny has mostly been a financial threat in Europe, where tech companies can face maximum fines of up to 4 per cent of their annual turnover for privacy breaches, Australia's new bill goes further by holding individual representatives liable, as well.

However, Dr Culnane said that most companies are likely to comply - partly because users won't be aware if their messages have been accessed.

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