The prime minister’s key cyber security advisor, Alastair MacGibbon, has said that the government is not seeking to force companies with encrypted messaging services to build-in backdoors for security agencies.
The Australian government supports encryption because “end-to end encryption helps reduce criminality against individuals, against governments and against business,” MacGibbon this morning told ABC Radio.
“I don’t think we’re talking about backdoors,” MacGibbon said. “What we’re saying is: Government and businesses always cooperate to help fight crime and terrorism. We expect, in fact the community expects, governments to work with industry to do that. So no-one’s talking about backdoors here.”
“What we’re talking about is the fact that from time to time you may need to gain access to certain messages,” MacGibbon said.
“And it may be that even getting access to the message isn’t necessary.” Access to “metadata” might be enough in some cases, he said. “It may be that just knowing that you and I are part of a network is enough.”
Earlier this week Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that “global social media and messaging companies” need to assist security services’ efforts to fight terrorism by “providing access to encrypted communications,” citing WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage service as examples.
“You may recall the difficulty the FBI had getting access to the iPhone of one of the terrorists involved in the San Bernardino attack,” Turnbull said.
“What this is about is not always gaining access to encrypted communications,” MacGibbon said this morning.
“Sometimes it will be; other times it’s about metadata other times it’s going to be other investigative techniques used by law enforcement or intelligence services.” The Greens have strongly criticised Turnbull’s comments.