The Australian Government just passed a controversial law providing government authorities unprecedented access to encrypted messaging. The bill which was approved Thursday will allow law enforcement agencies to force tech companies to hand over encrypted messaging data from services such as WhatsApp and iMessage.
Many tech companies are warning that this may be setting a crippling precedence that could, in turn, weaken digital security worldwide.
The government argues that the new measures are being put into action in order to combat serious crimes such as terrorist acts and child sex crimes. Australia’s national security advisor, Alastair MacGibbon states that “In the last several years they’ve been…going blind or going deaf because of the encryption and use of modern technologies. The bill was pushed through in the final hours on the idea that waiting until next year would threaten the country’s national security.
Despite the government’s claims, tech giants such as Facebook are calling the bill extraordinarily broad and consider it a monumentally dangerous overreach. In a statement, The Digital Industry Group (DGI), which is a nonprofit industry in Australia, said: “It is deeply concerning that the minimum safeguards Australians should expect under such unprecedented new powers – judicial oversight and warrant-based system- are absent.”
The law could also make top tech firms wary of doing business in Australia, given the cost and demands they would endure by doing so.
If a company were to refuse a request to release information they could be subject to fines of up to $7 million, or jail for individuals that are associated with the refusal.
If the bill does makes Australia one of the first nations to impose broad access requirements on technology companies, but others may soon follow.