Asia & Australia

December 10, 2018

Australia passes “Assistance and Access” Bill, enable police to access encrypted data


Amid critically increasing incidents of terrorist attacks and crime, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) on December 6 voted to pass a controversial encryption bill called “Assistance and Access” Bill, introducing changes to Australia’s telecommunication laws by allowing police and security agencies to issue notices to technology firms such as Alphabet Inc’s Google, Facebook, and Apple to enable access to encrypted data for investigation purposes.

Praising the Bill, Australia’s Attorney-General Charles Christian Porter said, "This ensures that our national security and law enforcement agencies have the modern tools they need, with appropriate authority and oversight, to access the encrypted conversations of those who seek to do us harm."

On the other hand, Critics fear that the vote sets a dangerous precedent and also fear about the ramifications of the bill’s vague language. According to the Bill, an intended communication provider is “a person who provides an electronic service that has one or more end-users in Australia”. The Critics mentioned that this definition of an intended communication provider covers almost every website accessible in Australia.

As per the government, the laws are necessary to help combat terrorism and crime. Notably, the Bill provides the government the power to issue 3 different types of notices requesting data using interception capabilities or building new methods of interception that could undermine encryption and potentially install backdoors.

Also, according to the Bill, technology firms or individuals who do not cooperate in handing over data linked to suspected illegal activities could face legal consequences and fines: up to A$10 million ($7.3 million) for institutions and prison terms for individuals.

In this regard, technology firms stated that creating tools for law enforcement to break encryption will inevitably undermine security for everyone.

Once the Bill becomes law, Australia will be one of the first nations in the Five Eyes alliance — also comprising Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Britain — to impose broad access requirements on technology firms.

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