Apple has joined three other tech giants in opposing a proposed new Australian law that would force tech firms to provide access to encrypted user data. The companies fear that if the law is passed it could set a precedent that other countries – the U.S. included – would follow.
Australia is part of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence network which last month issued statements declaring that ‘privacy is not an absolute‘ and the use of end-to-end encryption ‘should be rare.’ All of the Five Eyes nations – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the USA – have said they would seek access to encrypted emails, text messages and voice communications via new legislation, suggesting that Australia is being used as a test case.
The Australian government first announced the possibility of the new legislation back in June, via the following statement:
Cyber Security Minister Angus Taylor said there would not be a requirement for a “back door” to be built in to apps and platforms.
“There’s been ideas around for decades that you should create some kind of key that law enforcement can get access to, to access any data at any time — that’s not what we’re proposing here,” Mr Taylor said.
“But at the same time we must ensure that law enforcement doesn’t lose access to the data and the information they need to pre-empt terror attacks and crimes, and to hold criminals and terrorists to account.”
If the legislation is passed into law, tech companies that fail to turn over encrypted data when presented with a warrant would face fines of up to A$10 million ($7.2 million US)
Apple has joined Facebook, Google parent Alphabet, and Amazon in lobbying against the bill.
“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 Lizzie O’Shea, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for a Safe and Secure Internet.
While Apple can provide access to iCloud backups, they cannot provide access to iMessage and FaceTime communications, as both are protected by end-to-end encryption. The only way the Cupertino firm could comply with the new legislation would be to turn off that end-to-end encryption.