Australia’s New Surveillance Law Forces Facebook, Google Messengers To Break Encryption
Australia has taken another bold step towards draconian privacy limitations. The country’s House of Representatives passed the “Telecommunications Assistance and Access Bill 2018.” The bill, also known as the Anti-Encryption Bill, would allow the country’s law enforcement to strong-arm big tech companies into releasing encrypted communications.
The Australian government says that the law will help the country deter acts of terrorism, drug trafficking, and the child sex trade.
Both members of the Labor and Coalition parties supported the bill that could allow government officials to access to Google, Facebook, and numerous widely used messenger apps. The bill is now in a position to be passed by the upper house. According to Tech Radar, the bill could be actively in play as early as next week.
The hold up of the bill revolved around “who” can request “what” data. The infancy of the bill was a broad stroke that allowed federal and state law enforcement agencies to request encrypted messages related to investigations into child sex offenses, firearm crimes, drug crimes, and terrorism.
The new “passable version” of the bill only includes terrorism and child sex offenses.
The anti-encryption bill would be a set back for privacy advocates who largely consider Australian as a country teetering on the precipice of a draconian digital rule.
The Australian government would be able to use the law to force major digital companies to disclose a few different layers of encryption in an effort to help “protect the nation.”
Telecommunications Assistance and Access Bill 2018 Points
Technical Assistance Request (TAR): A notice to request tech companies for providing “voluntary assistance” to law enforcement, which includes “removing electronic protection, providing technical information, installing software, putting information in a particular format and facilitating access to devices or services.”
Technical Assistance Notice (TAN): This notice requires, rather than request, tech companies to give assistance they are already capable of providing that is reasonable, proportionate, practical and technically feasible, giving Australian agencies the flexibility to seek decryption of encrypted communications in circumstances where companies have existing means to do it (like at points where messages are not end-to-end encrypted).
Technical Capability Notice (TCN): This notice is issued by the Attorney-General requiring companies to “build a new capability” to decrypt communications for Australian law enforcement.
In laymen’s terms, the above notices force companies such as Facebook and Google to modify encryption layers in a way that allows “backdoor access” for the Australian government.
Allow me to clarify what all of this means.
The Australian government is not asking tech companies to weaken or soften their encryption security. Instead, the government is asking digital-based companies to create access for the government only.
“We encourage the government to stand by their stated intention not to weaken encryption or compel providers to build systemic weaknesses into their products”
Australian Government Will Have Full Access To Private Conversations
This essentially comes down to tech companies, like Google and Facebook, creating a layer of government access into consumer private messages before the encryption deploys.
The obvious concern is that the Australian government may now force Facebook’s widely used messenger services, such as Whatsapp, as well as Google’s Gmail, to give unlimited access to Australian citizens’ private messaging.
Worse more (as if it could get any worse), creating a “government backdoor” does in fact, weaken the integrity of the account. So not only would the Australian government have unprecedented and unsettling access to private conversations, but by default, these digital platforms would likely be more susceptible to hacking breaches.
Table Set For Mass Surveillance
The Australian government claims it will only access private conversations related to terrorism and child sex investigations, however, the slippery slope, in this case, is well-oiled and terrifying.
Beyond just the idea that government officials could abuse the law, mass surveillance expansion is an obvious next step. Once the foundation is built, the erection of the master’s castle is only a matter of time.
The original bill included crimes involving firearms. This tells you everything you need to know.
The government could eventually surveil gun right’s groups as well as groups that are against vaccine mandates. And although that might feel comfortable for some, the surveillance would be unlikely to stop there. Because that’s how these things work. Your rights don’t disappear overnight, they disappear over years under a guise of “safety and security.”
Would Tech Companies Defy Law?
While it is easy to script a narrative that has big evil tech companies pairing with evil’er globalist authoritarians, there is some history that might inspire a shade more confidence in big tech. At least, when it comes to Apple.
In 2016, Apple refused FBI demands to unlock terrorist Syed Farook iPhone. Farook carried out the tragic San Bernadino shooting that killed 14 and left 22 injured.
“We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it,” Comey wrote in a public letter. “We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land.”
As recently as last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook lashed out at Facebook and Google over their data collection methods. Cook likened their practices to “surveillance.”
“We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences,” he said, according to Time. “This is surveillance and these stockpiles of data serve only to make rich the companies that collect them. This should make us uncomfortable.”
Zuckerberg was defiant in the face of Cook’s criticisms, claiming that data collection, as a whole, allowed companies such as Facebook and Google to be free to consumers. Clearly, Facebook and Google use data collection as a way to retarget ads and increase advertiser revenues.
So far, there has been no response by big tech companies to Australia’s new anti-encryption bill.
Author: Jim Satney
PrepForThat’s Editor and lead writer for political, survival, and weather categories.