An Australian Bill makes mandatory for IT companies to crack users’ encrypted messages

The Australian Parliament recently passed the ? Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 that might have a disruptive effect on the whole IT business, by forcing companies into designing unsecure hardware and software and weakening users’ confidence.

in the wording of the official summary, this law:

Amends… to establish frameworks for voluntary and mandatory industry assistance to law enforcement and intelligence agencies in relation to encryption technologies via the issuing of technical assistance requests, technical assistance notices and technical capability notices; and make amendments ? … to provide that certain decisions under the new arrangements for industry assistance are not subject to judicial review; … ? to ensure providers are not criminally responsible for particular telecommunications and computer offences for any acts or things done consistent with a technical assistance request, technical assistance notice or technical capability notice; … ? to: provide that a person or body is not subject to civil liability where they voluntarily provide assistance to ASIO, or give information or produce a document to ASIO unsolicited, in certain circumstances; and enable ASIO to require a person with knowledge of a computer or a computer system to provide assistance that is reasonable and necessary to gain access to data on a device that is subject to an ASIO warrant.

The global investigative framework, though not for every kind of crime, allows law enforcement and intelligence bodies to:

  • force “industry” (i.e. microprocessor and other components’ manufacturers up to software developers and telco operators) to help cracking – or crack on the State behalf – users’ communications,
  • deny judicial review over these activities,
  • shield industry from legal liability arising from the cooperation with the investigative powers,
  • force private citizen to mandatory cooperate with the investigative powers

It is much too early, of course, to assess the impact of this law on both due process principle, industry choices and users’ reaction for a key difference will be whether other States will virally adopt similar legislations, or choosing no to do it.

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