After contentious debate, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) backed down and voted to pass an encryption bill on Thursday. Deemed the “Assistance and Access” Bill, the legislation makes changes to Australia’s telecommunication laws by allowing police and security agencies to issue notices to tech companies forcing them to allow access to necessary encrypted data for investigations.
Under the bill, the government can issue three different types of notices requesting data using interception capabilities or building new methods of interception that could undermine encryption and potentially install backdoors. Tech companies who refuse to cooperate could face legal consequences and huge fines.
The bill is meant to help law enforcement track criminals including terrorists and sex offenders, but critics are worried about the ramifications of the bill’s vague language. The bill’s language defines an intended communication provider as “the person provides an electronic service that has one or more end-users in Australia” which covers almost every website accessible in Australia. The broad language used throughout the bill was criticized by ALP members as potential for legal loopholes.
Critics also feared that the Australian government would now be susceptible to data hacks with this new reservoir of information from tech companies. Along with this massive change, it now sets a path for other countries to follow in Australia’s footsteps by giving their governments authority to gain access to secured information for the sake of national security.