Government should back strong encryption: Ludlam

The aftermath of the San Bernardino mass shooting has sparked a debate over encryption and law enforcement

The government should support the development and use of strong encryption technologies, according to a motion set to be brought before the Senate today by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.

Australia should resist any push from other governments to weaken encryption on personal devices and work with law enforcement organisations to develop alternative avenues to obtain information through warrants and targeted surveillance, the motion says.

Weakening encryption will put Australians at greater risk of identity theft, it says.

A conflict between Apple and FBI over the latter’s attempt to access an iPhone belonging to a perpetrator of the San Bernardino mass shooting has renewed the controversy over encryption, the right to privacy and law enforcement.

Apple has resisted taking measures that could jeopardise the security of its smartphone platform.

In letter to customers issued last week Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company objected to an FBI request to create a version of iOS that could circumvent an iPhone’s security features.

“Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor,” Cook wrote.

“And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control...

“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals.”

Apple has challenged a court order requiring it to assist the FBI.

Australia’s attorney-general, George Brandis, last week waded into the debate, saying that the Australian government’s position “is that we would expect, as in Australia, that all orders of courts should be obeyed by any party which is the subject of a lawful order by a court.”

“The particular facts of this case are not facts that would arise in Australia,” Brandis said during a doorstop interview.

“But what I think it does illustrate is at a time when encryption of data is becoming almost ubiquitous and vast quantities of data which would previously have been accessible by warrant to law enforcement agencies, inaccessible, I think it shows how important it is that ISPs do cooperate with law enforcement agencies in facilitating and cooperating with proper investigations into serious crime.”

“My department has established very cooperative and collaborative relationships with companies in the tech-sector and we’re happy with the level of cooperation we are receiving,” Brandis said.

“But nevertheless there is a broader problem for law enforcement, in all jurisdictions frankly, if data is encrypted in a way that is entirely inaccessible without the cooperation of the ISP or the maker of the device, then that makes inaccessible relevant investigative information that would hitherto have been accessible and that’s a problem for law enforcement.”

In a national security statement last year in the wake terrorist attacks in France, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the use of encrypted communications presented a challenge to Australian intelligence agencies.

Turnbull said he had asked ASIO and other agencies “to address the challenge of monitoring terrorist groups in this new environment”.

Amid a push from politicians around the world to boost law enforcement’s access to encrypted communications, more than 130 non-government organisations last month issued an open letter calling for policies that undermine the use and effectiveness of encryption to be rejected.

Australian signatories included the Australian Privacy Foundation, Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), Future Wise, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and Blueprint for Free Speech.

Full text of Ludlam’s motion:

Senator Ludlam: To move—That the Senate—

(a) notes that:

(i) strong digital encryption protects the personal and financial information of millions of people,

(ii) encryption is an important tool to prevent identity theft and other crime,

(iii) encryption ensures that public interest whistleblowers, journalists and other civil society actors can conduct their activities more securely,

(iv) the Government, through services such as Medicare and Centrelink, and digital platforms such as myGov, depends on encryption to keep client information safe, and

(v) any decrease in public trust in digital systems and services will present an obstacle to the Government’s agile innovation agenda; and

(b) calls on the Government to:

(i) support the continued development and use of strong encryption technologies,

(ii) resist any push from other governments to weaken encryption on personal devices, and

(iii) work with law enforcement to develop alternative avenues to obtain information through warrants and targeted surveillance that does not put every Australian at greater risk of identity theft.

Read more: Plugging the leaks: How to prevent a data breach


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