Australia Wants Tech
Companies to Decode Encrypted Messages
July 17, 2017
Australia wants to pass new laws to force major tech companies
to decode encrypted messages and hand them over to crime
fighters. The government in Canberra says the measures are
needed to fight extremism, drug smuggling and child abuse. But
technology experts say it is difficult to see how the
legislation would work in practice.
The cybersecurity law would compel international technology
giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook to help law
enforcement agencies by helping to decode encrypted messages
sent by suspected extremists and other criminals.
The proposed legislation would be modelled on Britain’s
Investigatory Powers Act, which has given UK intelligence
services some of the most broad-ranging surveillance powers in
the Western world.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants Australia to have the same
“Increasingly, communications across the internet, whether it is
messaging applications or voice applications, are encrypted
end-to-end, and that means while they can be intercepted they
cannot be read. So, what we are seeking to do, working with the
other leading economies in the world, is to ensure that the
brilliant tech companies in Silicon Valley and their emulators
bring their brilliance to bear to assist the rule of law,”
The Australian Federal Police say the legislation would not
change or expand what the authorities could currently legally
intercept, but would give them the ability to see material that
is scrambled by encryption applications.
The Turnbull administration is expecting resistance from some
tech companies, including many based in the United States. Apple
boss Tim Cook has previously rejected co-operation with
governments that could undermine the security of its products.
Nigel Phair, director of the Center for Internet Safety at the
University of Canberra, says the Australian plan is fraught with
“There is no silver bullet to catching these people and as soon
as we create, or try to create, a backdoor in one messaging app,
they are just going create their own messaging app which will
not cooperate with government. So there is other players out
there that will not cooperate with government. They might be
domiciled in a foreign jurisdiction that does not abide by the
way we play, and, of course, the criminals will just use that
app,” Phair said.
Australian authorities say that 65 percent of their
investigations into serious crime, including terrorism and
pedophile rings, involve some sort of encryption.
Ministers hope to introduce the laws in parliament in the next