Apple execs meet with Australian government to talk encryption


iPhone hack
The Australian government is no fan of strong encryption
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Australia may not be one of Apple’s biggest markets, but that doesn’t mean that Apple’s not taking its impending law changes regarding strong encryption seriously.

In fact, according to a new report, Apple has flown to of its top privacy executives to the country over the past month to lobby the government over its demands. Apple representatives met with Australian Attorney-General George Brandis and members of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government this week to discuss cybersecurity.

The encryption conundrum

Australia’s proposed new anti-encryption law is said to be modeled on the U.K.’s Investigatory Powers Act, also known as the “snooper’s charter. The Australian government wants to force tech companies to make phones and secure messaging apps available for inspection by police and spy agencies, so long as a proper warrant is obtained.

Apple has reportedly told the Australian government that it is opposed to laws that block tech companies from using strong encryption, or from having to hand over keys which allow access to secure communications. According to Apple, this is because this risks hurting users.

This is similar to the response Apple publicly voiced regarding the U.K.’s Investigatory Powers Act, which Apple said could “hurt law-abiding citizens.” Apple has spent much of last year similarly arguing against similar rulings in the United States.

Speaking about this week’s Australia meeting, which took place on Tuesday,  a source told The Sydney Morning Herald that both Apple and the Australian government are taking a collaborative approach to discussions.

Ahead of the meeting, Australia’s Attorney-General George Brandis told Sky News that Apple voluntarily helping the government would be his “first preference,” although the government is willing to pursue alternatives “if we don’t get the cooperation we seek.”

We’ll have to wait and see what the outcome is — but if Apple backs down it could prove to be a precedent setter that other countries would no doubt be willing to capitalize on.