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    Australian Bill Would Force Companies to Give Cops, Spy Agencies Users’ Data

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    A bill introduced in Australia for public consultation increases penalties companies could face for refusing to cooperate with law enforcement and spy agency requests for people’s data by imposing 10-year prison sentences on those who balk, though it’s not clear who specifically in corporate structures would ultimately pay the price.

    The legislation, the Assistance and Access bill, would create a new type of warrant for searching people's devices. It would serve as more of a "side gate" than a "back door" when it comes to encryption, ABC Australia reports.

    "This bill is part of a swathe of legislation in recent years which places a very high level of penalties on third parties who may or may not be complicit, or even involved, in matters under investigation," Paul Wallis, op-ed editor at large at Digital Journal, told Sputnik News. "Meanwhile, a lot of it seems more like a chance to impose penalties rather than actually achieve any worthwhile goals to stop crime and terrorism."

    Instead of breaking encryptions to access communications, authorities would simply intercept them.

    The new type of warrant would also allow police to read messages before the device encrypts them.

    "This bill, reading the basics, seems to assume that de-encryption and access powers will solve everything. It won't, and it can't. Encryption is only part of the story, unless you're dealing with remarkably stupid, verbose criminals and terrorists," Wallis said. "Any intelligence operative would agree that it's naive to assume that 'information' necessarily has any real value at all, let alone build new jails because some of it might have value."

    It would also force compliance from communication service providers, device vendors and app makers as long as they are connected to Australia.

    Telecommunication companies would have to hand over their decryption keys. If the suspect holds the decryption key themselves, the bill would force the company to create new capabilities to allow authorities access to the target's information — in other words, vulnerabilities. 

    "People could be jailed for failure to jump through hoops to provide useless non-information, as this bill stands," Wallis told Sputnik News. "Innocent people could be forced to provide information, simply because the investigation picked the wrong people, with no legal comeback; judicial oversight and maintaining a rational perspective on the enforcement side are required, and they don't seem to be in this bill."

    Privacy advocates and industry groups are equally up in arms over the legislation. Digital Industry Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization that represents Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, put out a statement saying the bill could have "devastating implications."

    "The reality is that creating security vulnerabilities, even if they are built to combat crime, leaves us all open to attack from criminals," Nicole Buskiewicz, Digital Industry Group's managing director, said.

    "It looks very like political grandstanding, being tougher than everyone else," Wallis told Sputnik News. The bill is "childish," "wrong" and "should go back to daycare for re-assessment," he added.


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