Published: Fri, July 14, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Australia may force tech companies to crack encrypted messages

Australia may force tech companies to crack encrypted messages

"We intend to work with the companies in order to address what is potentially the greatest degradation of intelligence and law enforcement capability that we have seen in our lifetimes", Attorney-General George Brandis said on Friday.

Brandis is infamous for being unable to articulate an accurate or comprehensible definition of "metadata" when asked to do so during a live television interview, so his understanding of cryptographic concerns can not be trusted without qualification, which The Register is seeking.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today said the laws were meant to "illuminate" the "dark places online" that "terrorists and child molestors" and drug traffickers inhabit.

Asked how Australia's proposed regime would allow local authorities to read messages sent with either WhatsApp or Signal, Brandis said "Last Wednesday I met with the chief cryptographer at GCHQ".

Social media giants will be compelled to pass encrypted messages on to Australian security agencies under new laws introduced by the Turnbull government on Friday.

MacGibbon is expecting a "robust and rational" debate surrounding the potential legislation with tech companies that operate in Australia.

"They can't just wash their hands of it and say it's got nothing to do with them".

"We want to ensure the brilliant tech companies bring their brilliance to assist the rule of law".

He also declined to answer questions about how the government would respond should encrypted comms providers - the majority of which are located outside Australia - simply declined to co-operate.

Turnbull today said while it was still his "very strong first preference" that companies volunteer their help, the proposed laws would enable the government to force assistance where it needed to.

Yet Turnbull continues to stress that the Government is not asking tech companies to create a backdoor, but rather assist in investigations, suggesting that the need to access such communications is paramount for law enforcement and national security.

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"We can not allow the internet to be an ungoverned space".

He denied it had anything to do with mass surveillance of the public.

"It is vitally important that the development of technology does not leave the law behind", he said.

It is believed the legislation will also authorise intelligence agencies to install spyware on suspects' mobile devices, and exploit known flaws in computer networks to intercept messages before they are encrypted.

Other than this posturing, I've not heard a great solution to how we counter the rise in encrypted messaging between terrorists and criminals, but one thing's for sure - this statement, and this legislation (which we're yet to see) will do little or nothing in the grand scheme of things.

A United Kingdom public bills parliamentary committee said the law should include a specific threshold that recognises it is unreasonable to hand over decrypted content from end-to-end encrypted channels.

The government is expected to introduce the new laws to parliament before the end of the year.

Brandis said the Australian laws would require a warrant be obtained before a request can be made by law enforcement.

The FBI later managed to unlock the iPhone with the help of Israeli digital forensics company Cellebrite. Encryption was featured in attack planning for the 2015 Paris attacks and other incidents.

The Labor party has previously indicated plans to support the proposed legislation.

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