Cyber minister tight-lipped on law enforcement access to encrypted comms

Not yet ready to reveal timeline for publishing bill

The government is not ready to reveal what will be considered “reasonable steps” to assist law enforcement and national security agencies under planned legislation to tackle the use of encrypted communications services by criminals.

“All good things come to those who are patient,” cyber security and law enforcement minister Angus Taylor told Computerworld in response to a question about what “reasonable steps” would constitute in the case of end-to-end encrypted services.

The government is also not prepared to release a timeline for the introduction of the legislation. “The focus is on getting it right,” Taylor told Computerworld at the CeBit Cyber Security Conference in Sydney.

“This is a big issue across the world,” Taylor said.

“We see encryption as crucial for cyber security,” the minister said. “I think I’m very privileged and in an unusual situation where I have two parts to my portfolio: Law enforcement and cyber security. If I was pure law enforcement I might take a less balanced point of view, but I’m both. I know encryption is absolutely crucial to protect our networks, to protect our devices to protect our data.”

“To weaken encryption as a means of supporting law enforcement – that’s not where we’re going,” the minister said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last year that the government would introduce legislation to tackle the use of strong encryption by criminals and terrorist groups.

In addition to their use by individuals and businesses, encrypted messaging applications “are used by criminals and terrorists,” Turnbull said. “At the moment, much of this traffic is difficult for our security agencies to decrypt and, indeed, for our Five Eyes partners as well.”

In January, the government indicated to Computerworld that it was putting the finishing touches on the legislation.

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“Legislation to enable Australian law enforcement and security agencies to adapt to the challenges posed by ubiquitous encryption is in an advanced stage of development,” a spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department told Computerworld at the time.

“The government anticipates that it will be introduced in the first quarter of this year,” the spokesperson said.

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