New laws to force the nation’s telecommunications companies and multinational tech giants to help law enforcement agencies access the encrypted data of suspected criminals and terrorists will be released in weeks.
- It is not yet clear how the new powers would work, but companies could be fined if they do not comply
- Multinationals including Facebook, Google, Apple would also be subject to Australian laws
- Cyber Security Minister Angus Taylor would not discuss technical details
But Cyber Security Minister Angus Taylor is reluctant to discuss exactly how the new powers would work, or whether the proposal would allow the embedding of surveillance codes in mobile devices.
Under the new laws, companies would face significant fines if they did not comply with requests for access to the data.
Telecommunications companies such as Telstra and Optus are not the only target, with multinational tech giants including Facebook, Apple and Google to also come under the new laws.
Mr Taylor said there was nothing suspicious about the proposal, and argued it simply reflected the modern era and the rise in use of messaging platforms such as WhatsApp.
“Already there are powers there where if two people involved in a paedophile ring are talking to each other on the phone, law enforcement agencies can use technology to access the content of that phone conversation,” Mr Taylor told the ABC’s RN Breakfast.
“Those laws should be extended to a situation where messages are being sent through an app, or via any other means, in ways that the current laws hadn’t anticipated.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull foreshadowed the new laws last year, arguing companies such as Facebook and Google had “an obligation” to cooperate with investigations.
Mr Taylor was repeatedly asked whether surveillance codes would be dropped into mobile devices, and avoided directly answering by arguing he was not prepared to get into the technical details.
“It includes whatever techniques are relevant, and that’s how the current system works,” he said.
“It’s not appropriate to have a world where we can do this for analogue data, analogue communication, but we can’t do it in the digital world.”
Draft legislation will be presented in weeks, with time allowed for public consultation.
No ‘back door’ for cops, Taylor argues
There have been concerns the Government would attempt to force companies to install a “back door” in their apps and equipment, or provide law enforcement agencies with an encryption key to remotely access data in criminal investigations.
Tech companies were worried that would allow people to exploit messaging platforms.
It follows disputes between the FBI and Apple over accessing encrypted data during a shooting investigation a few years ago.
British Prime Minister Theresa May called for a crackdown on internet services that allowed extremist ideology “the safe space it needs to breed”, in the wake of the London Bridge and Borough Markets terror attack.
“We want more cybersecurity, we want networks to be more secure, not less secure,” Mr Taylor said.
“We’re very sympathetic to the concerns that the tech service providers have had.
“But at the same time we must ensure that law enforcement doesn’t lose access to the data and the information they need to pre-empt terror attacks and crimes, and to hold criminals and terrorists to account.”
Former attorney-general George Brandis raised the need for tech companies to hand over encrypted data with Australia’s key intelligence allies last year.