Looks Like Australian Police are Getting Access to Your Messages

The government's controversial encryption laws are set to pass by the end of the week.

05 December 2018, 3:02am

Image via Wikimedia user DaraDaraDara, CC licence 4.0

Australia is set to pass world-first national security laws this week that will give authorities the power to access smartphone messages and intercept encrypted communications. The controversial new laws will pass federal parliament within the next few days, SBS reports, despite ongoing condemnation from global tech giants such as Apple, Facebook, and Amazon for the alleged risks that they pose to digital security.

The bill, which was put before the government in August, proposed that police be legally allowed to force tech companies to crack encrypted messages on instant messenger apps like Wickr. These encryption laws will allegedly give agencies like ASIO the power to police serious crimes—“serious” being defined as as all terrorism and child sex offences, or any other offences with a term of imprisonment of three years or more, The Guardian reports. Institutions who refused to comply could be issued a fine of up to $10 million.

The federal government and Labor have now come to an "in-principle" agreement on the laws, and the government’s hoping to pass the legislation before Parliament rises on Thursday so that they can get it through before the festive season, when the risk of terrorist attacks increases. They’ve also agreed to limit the powers to the investigation of serious offences only, as per a deal between attorney general Christian Porter and his shadow Mark Dreyfus.

Moreover, law enforcement agencies won’t be able to issue notices for tech companies to build back doors into their encrypted apps unless both the attorney general and communications minister approve. This was one of the main parts of the bill that companies like Apple had previously taken issue with, according to CNBC—disturbed by the idea of authorities being given a “back door to user’s data”.

“The government have made important concessions on its earlier position,” shadow attorney general Dreyfus said. “It appears the government will agree to proposals by Labor that will ensure there is better oversight and limitation of the powers in this bill, and better safeguards against potential unintended consequences.

"This bill is far from perfect and there are likely to be significant outstanding issues, but this compromise will deliver security and enforcement agencies the powers they say they need over the Christmas period, and ensure adequate oversight and safeguards."