Australia seeks access to encrypted messages

SYDNEY • Australia yesterday proposed laws to compel companies such as US social media giant Facebook and device manufacturer Apple to provide security agencies with access to encrypted messages.

The move will be the first in an expected wave of global legislation as pressure mounts on technology firms to provide such access after several terror suspects used encrypted applications ahead of attacks. And it comes after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned that encrypted messages were increasingly being used by terrorists, drug traffickers and paedophile rings, calling for legislation to be modernised to let police do their jobs.

"We need to ensure that the Internet is not used as a dark place for bad people to hide their criminal activities from the law," he said, adding that the tech giants must "face up to their responsibility".

Currently, the Australian authorities can obtain information from telcos but not Internet firms that use data encryption to guarantee user confidentiality.

Attorney-General George Brandis said the legislation would be similar to Britain's Investigatory Powers Act, which imposes an obligation on companies to cooperate with investigations.

However, Silicon Valley tech companies have so far refused to bend to such legal requests.

Facebook said it already had a system in place to help police and intelligence officials in Australia.

A spokesman said " weakening encrypted systems for them would mean weakening it for everyone".

Apple said it had no comment on the new legislation.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2017, with the headline 'Australia seeks access to encrypted messages'. Print Edition | Subscribe