Australia OKs Controversial Anti-Encryption Law

Australia to pass law to bypass WhatsApp, other encryption

It believes it will have a chance to push some amendments next year, after the bill has already become law.

"We're prepared to let it go forward on that basis knowing there's more work to be done", Labor leader Bill Shorten told reporters, according to the report.

Labour voted the bill through the lower house, but was still negotiating with the government on the issue and would debate it in the Senate, he added.

Despite the Opposition Labor party initially stating it would only accept the "unsatisfactory" bill with strict limitations, it has since dropped these demands on the proviso that the government reconsider its proposed amendments when the government next sits in early 2019.

"We will pass the legislation, inadequate as it is, so we can give our security agencies some of the tools they say they need", Shorten said.

Under the bill, companies that fail to hand over data linked to suspected illegal activities would face a fine of as much as 10 million Australian dollars ($7.3m) while individuals could face a prison sentence. The legislation could force companies such as Facebook and Google to help decrypt such private communications.

Australia is the first of the Five Eyes nations, an intelligence alliance among Australia, the U.S, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, to pass this sort of bill, which is set to become law by the end of this year.

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More than 95 per cent of Australian terrorism suspects use encrypted communications, according to estimates by the country's cyber security ministry. They expect the government to amend the law in February, however.

Technology companies have opposed efforts to create what they see as a back door to users' data, a stand-off that was propelled into the public arena by Apple's refusal to unlock an iPhone used by an attacker in a 2015 shooting in California.

Many messaging apps that are being used by a majority of Australians offer encryption as either the standard or as an option, including Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

Earlier today Australia's House of Representatives passed the Assistance and Access Bill, which is also known as the Anti-Encryption Bill.

The Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI), whose members include Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon and Twitter, said in a statement that the Australian legislation was "out of step" with other countries that had strong national security concerns.

"Encryption underpins the foundations of a secure internet and the internet pervades everything that we do in a modern society", said Tim de Sousa, of privacy and cybersecurity consultancy elevenM.

However, critics have panned the laws as being short-sighted and missing the point of encryption. "Those back doors will be found and exploited by others, making everyone less secure". They are also concerned about how the law's secrecy provisions will impact their business models and consumer privacy.

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