Tech giants ally against proposed Australian law seeking encrypted data

The government has said the proposed law is needed amid a heightened risk of terror attacks.
The government has said the proposed law is needed amid a heightened risk of terror attacks.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Four global tech giants - Facebook, Apple, Alphabet and Amazon - will oppose an Australian law that would require them to provide access to private encrypted data linked to suspected illegal activities, an industry lobby group said on Wednesday (Oct 3).

Australia in August proposed fines of up to A$10 million (S$9.86 million) for institutions, and prison terms for individuals who do not comply with a court request to give the authorities access to private data.

The government has said the proposed law is needed amid a heightened risk of terror attacks.

Seen as test case as other nations explore similar laws, Facebook, Alphabet, Apple and Amazon will jointly lobby lawmakers to amend the Bill ahead of a parliamentary vote expected in a few weeks.

"Any kind of attempt by interception agencies, as they are called in the Bill, to create tools to weaken encryption is a huge risk to our digital security," said Ms Lizzie O'Shea, a spokesman for the Alliance for a Safe and Secure Internet.

She said the four companies had confirmed their participation in the lobbying effort.

Representatives of the four firms did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for Australia's home affairs minister, who is overseeing the legislation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

If the Bill becomes law, Australia will be one of the first nations to impose broad access requirements on technology companies, though others are poised to follow.


The so-called Five Eyes nations, which share intelligence, said last month that they would demand access to encrypted e-mails, text messages and voice communications through legislation.

The Five Eyes intelligence network, comprising the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, have each repeatedly warned that national security was at risk, as the authorities are unable to monitor the communication of suspects.

Technology companies have strongly opposed efforts to create what they see as a back door to user's data, a stand-off that was propelled into the public arena by Apple's refusal to unlock an iPhone used by an attacker in a 2015 shooting in California.

Frustrated by the deadlock, many countries are moving ahead with legislation, with New Zealand being the latest to tighten oversight over access to online communication.

New Zealand said on Tuesday that customs officers now have the authority to compel visitors to hand over passwords for their electronic devices. Tourists who refuse could face fines of NZ$5,000 (S$4,518).