Back in October, we reported that Apple was one of four tech giants opposing a proposed law in Australia focused on law enforcement access to encrypted data. Now, Australia has successfully passed that encryption legislation, which means companies including Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Google could be forced to “build new capabilities” to thwart encrypted messages.
As reported by CNET, the new Australia encryption law is being spun as essential for national security and an important part of law enforcement efforts in fighting terrorism. Essentially, the legislation allows for law enforcement and select government agencies to ask for three different levels of assistance from technology companies in accessing encrypted messages.
The three-tiered approach includes “technical assistance request,” “technical assistance notice,” and “technical capability notice.” CNET explains:
- Technical assistance request: A notice to provide “voluntary assistance” to law enforcement for “safeguarding of national security and the enforcement of the law.”
- Technical assistance notice: A notice requiring tech companies to offer decryption “they are already capable of providing that is reasonable, proportionate, practicable and technically feasible” where the company already has the “existing means” to decrypt communications (e.g. where messages aren’t end-to-end encrypted).
- Technical capability notice: A notice issued by the attorney general, requiring tech companies to “build a new capability” to decrypt communications for law enforcement. The bill stipulates this can’t include capabilities that “remove electronic protection, such as encryption.”
Australian government officials have been cautious of using the word “backdoor,” but tech companies worry that the law is essentially a pathway for such tools. Speaking about the piece of legislation, Apple stated that it is “wrong to weaken security for millions of law-abiding customers in order to investigate the very few who post a threat.”
What Apple and other tech companies also worry about is the precedent this could set for other countries. Apple has long opposed the idea of creating a backdoor for government officials, but this new Australian legislation could hurt Apple’s efforts around the world.
Broader tech response to the new legislation remain to be seen, as does how tech companies will react when asked for that first level of assistance.