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Australia passes a bill to access encrypted messages

Late last week, the lower house of the Australian parliament passed a bill through which security agencies can compel technology companies to grant access to encrypted messages reports AlJazeera. Through ‘The Telecommunications (Assistance and Access) Act’, a company could be fined $7.3 million if it fails to hand over the data linked to suspected illegal activities while individuals could face a prison sentence.

According to The Guardian, the list of activities that law enforcement can ask companies to do include:

  • Removing more than one form of electronic protection;
  • Giving technical information;
  • Helping them access services and equipments;
  • Installation and modification software and technology for eg: Apple Home or Amazon Alexa modified to record audio continuously;
  • Concealing the above changes from the public;

The enforcement agency can also ask company to send a suspect a software update, that allows the agencies to access the messages. However, The Telecommunications (Assistance and Access) Act, prevents the enforcement agencies from forcing technology companies to build a systemic weakness or back door into their product.

The opposition Labor party dropped its 173 amendments in the bill so that the bill could be passed before the end of 2018. But it dropped them on the condition that these amendments be debated in 2019 session.

Global implications

Phys.org reports that technology and ad companies like Google and Twitter have said that this legislation would create vulnerabilities in their products, which could be used by bad actors. It also cites the Law Council of Australia as saying that “We now have a situation where unprecedented powers to access encrypted communications are now law, even though parliament knows serious problems exist.”

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