As expected, the Australian Parliament on Thursday passed controversial encryption legislation that could force tech companies, like Apple, to provide law enforcement access to encrypted customer messages.
Apple officially announced it was opposed to the legislation via a seven-page letter to Australian parliament, back in October. Apple called the bill “dangerously ambiguous” and that it was open to potential abuse by authorities.
On the other side of the debate, advocates of the “Assistance and Access Bill 2018,” legislation argued the bill was necessary to protect national security, as encrypted communications are used by criminals and terrorist groups to avoid detection.
CNET provided a breakdown on the Australian bill:
- Technical assistance request: A notice to provide “voluntary assistance” to law enforcement for “safeguarding of national security and the enforcement of the law.”
- Technical assistance notice: A notice requiring tech companies to offer decryption “they are already capable of providing that is reasonable, proportionate, practicable and technically feasible” where the company already has the “existing means” to decrypt communications (e.g. where messages aren’t end-to-end encrypted).
- Technical capability notice: A notice issued by the attorney general, requiring tech companies to “build a new capability” to decrypt communications for law enforcement. The bill stipulates this can’t include capabilities that “remove electronic protection, such as encryption.”
While the Australian government maintains the new laws do not provide a “backdoor” to encrypted communications, Apple maintains the legislation allows the Aussie government to force smart home speaker makers, such as Apple and their HomePod smart speaker or Amazon and their Echo lineup, to “install persistent eavesdropping capabilities” or require device makers to offer tools to unlock such devices.
A joint tech industry lobbying group, DIGI, made up of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Oath, and Twitter, and others, has said that while they are willing to work with officials to promote public safety, the laws could “potentially jeopardize the security of the apps and systems that millions of Australians use every day.”