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Australia’s House of Representatives Passes Anti-Encryption Bill

Encrypted Data Privacy Online Security Protection Concept
Despite criticism and privacy concerns, Australian lawmakers passed the Assistance and Access Bill, mandating tech firms to hand over encrypted data.

As per Australia’s newly passed anti-encryption bill, police and anti-corruption forces can ask telecommunication companies, messaging providers, internet service providers or anyone necessary to break into any service they would like access to.

The Telecommunications Assistance and Access Bill, which was first introduced back in August, would allow law enforcement to pressure WhatsApp, Google, Facebook and other tech companies to help them to get access to encrypted communications.

The bill was finally passed in a session by the Australian House of Representatives earlier this month.

When Will It Be Introduced?

The government of Australia claims the law is significant for the security of the nation and an important tool for the security agencies and law enforcement to combat crimes including drug trafficking, child abuse, smuggling and terrorist attacks.

Australia’s major political parties, Labor and Coalition, both supported this bill, leading the upper house to pass it into law. This law would come into immediate effect during the next parliament session in 2019.

How Can the Anti-Encryption Bill Help?

Though this new law doesn’t clarify components of the power that it could offer the Australian government and other law enforcement companies on the digital privacy of citizens, it has new provisions for firms to help in three different levels in getting access to encrypted information, which can be seen below:

  1. TAR (Technical Assistance Request): This is a notice to ask tech firms to provide voluntary cooperation to law agencies, which includes eliminating electronic protection, software installation, offering technical details, arranging the information in a specified format and allowing access to services or devices.
  2. TAN (Technical Assistance Notice): This notice is more than a mere request. It asks tech firms to provide practical, feasible, reasonable and proportionate technical assistance to the agencies involved. This gives the agencies of Australia the adaptability to seek access to encrypted information in situations where companies already have ways to do it.
  3. TCN (Technical Capability Notice): This notice is broadcasted by the Attorney General asking the companies to come up with a new capability to access communications for the law enforcement of Australia.
Judge gavel and legal book on wooden table, justice and law concept
According to officials, the new law contains measures to allow legal access to data through two ways—decoding of encrypted data and access to data and communication where they are not coded.

All these notices would drive tech firms to make changes in their service infrastructure and software to backdoor communications that are encrypted and information that could not be obtained otherwise. It must be noted that companies could face significant fines for not following the new law.

According to officials, the new law contains measures to allow legal access to data through two ways—decoding of encrypted data and access to data and communication where they are not coded. So, without putting any pressure on companies to break coding in their software, the law enforcement of Australia is searching for ways to seek users’ messages before they’re encrypted, or get access to them once they are decoded.

This would certainly need help from the software and service providers, including Facebook, Apple, WhatsApp, Google, Samsung and many more.

The Australian law council has reprimanded the government for stressing the bill through Parliament. In August, only a draft version of the same was presented, while lawmakers only had a day to go through the results of an investigation of a parliamentary committee before passing the bill.

The modifications to this bill will be raised in the 2019 debate. Officials have stated that they will be adding definitions to describe “systemic weakness,” clarifying whether or not tech companies will be forced to add a backdoor to their systems in order to comply with the law.

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