Australia’s government is working on world-first legislation that would force technology companies to help police comb through citizens’ encrypted messages in the course of investigation. According to Attorney-General Christian Porter, many of those involved in terrorist plots and high-profile organised crime use encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Viber.
In a deal clinched by Porter and his shadow, Mark Dreyfus, authorities have agreed to limit the aforementioned regulation to probe for ‘serious offences’, such as terrorism, child sex, drug and gun crimes. The opposition, meanwhile, has voiced concern that the laws sound too broad and want to restrict the powers to federal agencies, rather than state police. In wake of the Bourke Street attack in Melbourne last month, the coalition had been pressuring Labour to support the legislation before parliament meets for a final sitting before Christmas on Thursday.
"It appears the Government will agree to proposals by Labour that will ensure there is better oversight and limitation of the powers in this bill, and better safeguards against potential unintended consequences", Mr. Dreyfus said in a statement.
He went on to say that the bill was still ‘far from perfect and there are likely to be significant outstanding issues’. ‘This compromise will deliver security and enforcement agencies the powers they say they need over the Christmas period’, he stressed.
Addressing concerns from technology companies, human rights groups and lawyers, some of whom were unhappy about the new regulation, Dreyfus called attention to the fact that ‘the trashing of bipartisan process and politicisation of national security that has occurred over the past month must never happen again’.
‘There is nothing more important than keeping Australians safe – the government must remember that’.
Speaking to journalists, Porter confirmed the ‘fundamental resolution’ with Labour, branding the bill, which is expected to be passed this week, a ‘massive win for the Australian people’.
Earlier this year, there were multiple critical reports on global mainstream media over the order of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which required access to the messenger app Telegram’s encryption keys. Telegram issued an appeal to the Supreme Court, with the app’s lawyers insisting that the FSB order was adopted by an unauthorized body showcasing an abuse of power; the FSB, meanwhile, reiterated more than once that it demanded Telegram’s encryption keys for protection of the society and the state, as the messenger was found to have been widely used by terrorists for communication.