Australia’s Parliament has rushed through a new law regarding encryption on various devices such as smartphones. Companies like Apple, Google, and even Facebook, will now be forced to go against their policies and disable encryption when the police request it. The newly enacted law was brought in hopes of having more success in pursuing criminals and terrorists in Australia.
The bill faces a lot of criticism
According to cybersecurity experts, this is the first such law in the world, and they believe that it will not damage the criminal underground, but will instead hurt user privacy and digital security. One tech security expert affiliated with IBM and Harvard University, Bruce Schneier, stated that the law is detrimental to the security of Australia, as well as the entire world. He also stated that it is a technological law written by non-technologists and that a lot of it doesn’t make any sense.
Many have already criticized the law, calling it “vague” and “contradictory” since it doesn’t require secret backdoors to be built in by tech providers. Instead, any backdoor that ends up being made will remain secret, and it is believed that this will make the job easier for hackers and criminals who aim to exploit such vulnerable devices.
Backdoors were always sought after by the governments, even in the US back in the 1990s, when the effort was made to force manufacturers to create a “Clipper Chip”, which allowed the government to listen in on data transmissions, and even voice transmissions. Now, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as well as many others, are also pushing for a legislation that would allow the government to secure communications once more.
Many believe that Australia’s bill will be the first step to achieving this, as the country is a part of a security alliance, together with New Zealand, Britain, Canada, and the US.
Stanford University’s cryptographer, Martin Hellman, confirmed that the bill will likely facilitate crime by making the devices’ security weaker. Despite this, however, the law received a legislative approval on Thursday, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that it was very important for this to happen. According to him, security agencies and the police itself were in great need for the ability to view encrypted communications. He also stated that apps such as WhatsApp and others are often used by organized criminals, terrorists, and even pedophile rings.
Furthermore, he also believes that it was necessary for the legislation to be supported as extremists might use encrypted communications systems to plan out attacks on Christmas and New Year crowds. Because this, even the opposition Labor Party was asked to join and back the legislation.
While Labor lawmakers stated that they wanted amendments to be passed in February 2019, the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, agreed that reducing risks to which Australians are exposed to was an urgent matter. However, President Morry Bailles of Australia’s Law Council stated that the bill passed through the parliament surprisingly quickly considering that “serious problems” exist when the law enforcement is provided with unrestricted access to encrypted communications.
Strong encryption disrupts law enforcements’ efforts
The bill was also hastened due to complaints from Australia’s law enforcement officials. According to them, the growth in end-to-end encryption in numerous apps, like WhatsApp, Signal, iMessage, Messenger, and others is the strong blow to law enforcement and intelligence. Perhaps the worst one in decades. It definitely gives the advantage to criminals, while it damages criminal investigations, according to Andrew Colvin, Federal Police Commissioner.
Apple responded to such comments in October, stating that providing access to encrypted communications is wrong, as it would weaken the security of millions of law-abiding users. According to Apple, very few users actually pose a threat, and it would be unethical to endanger the privacy of many just to catch a few. Not to mention that Apple’s encryption provided security and protection to human rights workers, journalists, and countless people living under repressive regimes all around the world.
In addition to this, Apple also added that the bill is “dangerously ambiguous”. Many have already complained that there are numerous contradictions, one of which is still confusing to technologists. This is the line that states that the government must not ask providers to implement backdoors, but it also states that the government can ask for selective deployment of vulnerabilities and weaknesses in an item, software, service, or device on a case-by-case basis.
This indicates that the government wants developers and device manufacturers to only provide access to specific devices when the government asks for it, which is not possible. Any change in the system would have to affect all users and not just specific individuals.