Published: Sat, December 08, 2018
Business | By Tara Barton

Australia passes world-first legislation to snoop on Whatsapp

Australia passes world-first legislation to snoop on Whatsapp

On Thursday, Australia's parliament passed the most expansive bill of all Western countries that could force major USA tech companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook to provide authorities with access to such encrypted data.

A bill to force technology firms including Google, Facebook and Apple to give police access to encrypted data was passed by Australia's lower house of parliament on Thursday, pushing it closer to becoming a precedent-setting law.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the law will not impact everyday citizens but will help prevent terrorists from hiding their communications.

The move makes Australia's state the first to be able to break the end-to-end encryption of Whatsapp, with other Western governments including the United Kingdom having shied away from doing so in the face of fierce criticism.

The new law requires police or security service to obtain a warrant to access communication data from companies.

But in an eleventh-hour twist, Labour said that despite its reservations, it would pass the bill in the Senate, on the proviso that the coalition agreed to its amendments next year.

Labor said its support was contingent on the government amending the new laws in February.

Tech companies have a history of resisting government efforts to diminish customer privacy.

HAS voted to pass the Assistance and Access Bill, the controversial legislation that requires tech companies to allow decryption of messages from apps like Whatsapp.

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Technical assistance request: A notice to provide "voluntary assistance" to law enforcement for "safeguarding of national security and the enforcement of the law". What they haven't done is brought us into their confidence of how we're going to get access (to encrypted data) - are they going to build a vulnerability in at the front door?

He likened it to "President Donald Trump reading your mail over your shoulder as you opened it", and said the blow to encryption will make us "the laughing stock of the tech world".

The proposed laws could also scupper cooperation with USA authorities because they lack sufficient privacy safeguards, Dreyfus said. The debate at the moment is what constitutes a systemic weakness.

Labor MP and regional communications spokesman Stephen Jones said he and a number of colleagues were "very concerned that we fix the problems in the laws as soon as Parliament returns".

"Several critical issues remain unaddressed in this legislation, most significantly the prospect of introducing systemic weaknesses that could put Australians' data security at risk".

The way the bill is worded, a law enforcement official could, in theory, compel a software engineer in charge of pushing out software updates to crack his or her company's own security measures, and do it in secret.

The opposition will "seek to improve" the legislation when Parliament resumes next year, he said, acknowledging that "legitimate concerns" persist.

"I thought it was important that we reach at least a sensible conclusion before the summer on the important matter of national security", he told reporters.

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