Australia to pass sweeping anti-encryption laws

The main political parties in Australia have made a deal to pass controversial and sweeping laws granting authorities the legal powers to access encrypted communications.

Technology companies are concerned that the law would undermine cyber security for businesses by allowing the government to force the installation of back doors allowing for secret access.

They argue that it is not technically possible to create a back door which only government authorities could access.

Despite these criticisms, the government has warned companies that they could face multi-million dollar fines if they fail to comply with its orders.

Opponents of the law have claimed it would be the most far-reaching in a liberal democracy, even exceeding similar powers passed in the UK.

In its letter to the Australian parliament, technology giant Apple – which has long stressed its commitment to privacy – argued that strong encryption was vital in the race to stay ahead of criminals.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison stands before delivering the National Apology to survivors of child sexual abuse in the House of Representatives
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Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has struck a deal with the opposition party to pass the law

Despite protests from privacy campaigners and companies including Facebook and Google, the Liberal-National coalition government and the opposition Labor Party have struck a deal to pass the law.

The law is expected to pass through Australia’s parliament by the end of the sitting week on Thursday.

“Let me be clear – this bill is far from perfect and there are likely to be significant outstanding issues,” said shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus.

“But this compromise will deliver security and enforcement agencies the powers they say they need over the Christmas period.”

The nature of the kind of access that the authorities could seek regarding encrypted communications is a controversial issue.

Numerous battles in different jurisdictions have been fought on the issue of public access to encryption since at least the 1990s.

Although the government has said it is not asking technology businesses to build in back doors allowing them to access people’s data, the industry has remained sceptical of this claim.

In its submission to parliament, Australia’s Digital Industry Group, which represents companies including Twitter and Amazon, claimed the law would force them to create vulnerabilities in their systems which could be exploited by hackers.

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