Apple could face new encryption fight in Australia


A bill in Australia could force tech companies to give law enforcement a "backdoor" to encrypted data that is part of a suspected crime.
Photo: orangesparrow/Flickr CC

Apple executives could face jail time and multi-million dollar fines if they refuse to hand over private encrypted data linked to suspected crime under a law proposed today in Australia.

The proposed change in telecommunication intercept law will be presented to parliament by Australia’s Ministry for Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity. The law would require all technology companies, from Apple and Google to Microsoft and Facebook, to essentially create a so-called “backdoor” to access encrypted data.

“Whether it’s pedophiles or terrorists or drug dealers, it makes sure we have legislation fit for purpose in a modern era,” the agency’s minister, Angus Taylor, told Reuters.

Apple did not immediately comment on what is called the Assistance and Access Bill 2018, but twice flew some of its top privacy experts to Australia this summer to lobby Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull against tech companies providing decryption keys.

Unnamed sources privy to the talks with Apple told the Sydney Morning Herald that company officials warned how “backdoor” software reduces security for all device users.

Turnbull reportedly said he does not want government to have a backdoor into people’s devices. One senator told the Sydney paper that such legal means would be a last resort. A warrant would be required for law enforcement to gain access to encrypted data.

The United Kingdom introduced a similar set of regulations last year.

Apple devices and the Apple ecosystem are popular in part because of its strict philosophy on privacy and cybersecurity. In 2017, it refused to comply with an FBI request to unlock the iPhone 5c of one of the shooters in the terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

The FBI eventually paid a hacker more than $900,000 to gain access to the data on the phone, but the information offered no clues to the planning of the attack.

Apple does all it can to cooperate with law enforcement without decrypting private information.

There is no timetable for a vote on the bill in Australia’s parliament. Under the bill, companies could be fined up to $7.3 million and unspecified jail time for executive if they fail to comply with requests from law enforcement.

Source: Reuters