Australia asks Five-Eyes partners to ‘tackle encryption' with tech firms

Australia will push for Five-Eyes partners to ensure laws require tech companies to provide “reasonable assistance” to law enforcement dealing with encrypted content. 

Australia’s Attorney-General George Bandis and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton will deliver the message at a Five-Eyes ministerial meeting in Ottawa, Canada this week. Five-Eyes nations include the Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and US.

“As Australia’s priority issue, I will raise the need to address ongoing challenges posed by terrorists and criminals using encryption. These discussions will focus on the need to cooperate with service providers to ensure reasonable assistance is provided to law enforcement and security agencies,” Senator Brandis said in a joint statement.

Australia’s focus on encryption at the meeting was expected and is in line with recent announcements by UK Prime Minister Theresa May following terrorist attacks in the UK, which called for an end to "safe spaces" that tech firms supposedly provide terrorists.  

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently denied the effort was about creating “backdoors” but was rather to ensure assistance from the industry in public safety matters.

Turnbull referenced Apple’s fight with the US Department of Justice over a Apple create a backdoor in iOS to help unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone 5c, arguing that “the privacy of a terrorist can never be more important than public safety”.      

Apple CEO Tim Cook highlighted at the time that creating a backdoor for one iPhone could expose all iOS devices to security risks if the tool ended up in the wrong hands. 

Turnbull’s speech also mentioned the WannaCry ransomware outbreak as a reason for stepping up Australia's cyber-readiness. Its rapid spread came courtesy of a Windows exploit that was once held exclusively by the US National Security Agency but was leaked by hacker group TheShadowBrokers.     

The other company Turnbull mentioned was Facebook, the parent of messaging app, WhatsApp, which last year enabled end-to-end encryption using Open Whisper System's Signal protocol. 

Brandis recently said he wants tech firms to face the same obligations as telecoms firms. He also wanted to ensure like-minded countries can help Australian agencies  access data from overseas counterparts.

"I think we've got to take a common position on the extent of the legally imposed obligations on the device-makers and the social media companies to co-operate," said Brandis.

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Tags AppleAustraliaencryptionFive-Eyes

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