Tech Industry Consortium Opposes Australian Encryption Law

Posted on December 11, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Cloud, Google, Microsoft with 24 Comments

A hastily-enacted Australian encryption law has come under fire from a consortium of U.S. tech companies that includes Microsoft.

“[The consortium] has consistently opposed any government action that would undermine the cybersecurity, human rights, or the right to privacy of our users,” a statement from the Reform Government Surveillance consortium explains. “Unfortunately, the Assistance and Access Bill that was just passed through the Australian Parliament will do just that. The new Australian law is deeply flawed, overly broad, and lacking in adequate independent oversight over the new authorities. RGS urges the Australian Parliament to promptly address these flaws when it reconvenes.”

The Reform Government Surveillance (RGS) consortium is made up of some of tech’s biggest hitters, including Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. It was formed to ensure that “the world’s governments address and reform the laws and practices regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information.”

“RGS therefore strongly believes that current surveillance laws and practices must be reformed,” the consortium says of its purpose. “Government surveillance must be consistent with established global norms of privacy, free expression, security, and the rule of law. Government law enforcement and intelligence efforts should be rule-bound, narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to strong oversight.”

Australia’s new Assistance and Access Bill was passed rather quickly last week after the country’s two leading political parties struck a deal. If passed into law, it would give police in Australia the right to force companies, including websites, to help its government “hack, implant malware, undermine encryption or insert backdoors.”

That this bill is controversial is an understatement, and it’s not surprising that it’s come under fire by the tech firms that will be forced to adhere to its vague and loophole-filled rules.

In addition to RGS, Cisco and Mozilla have filed separate complaints with the Australian government.


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Comments (24)

24 responses to “Tech Industry Consortium Opposes Australian Encryption Law”

  1. AnOldAmigaUser

    These companies have the right to abandon the Australian market. Just saying.

  2. Daekar

    I was actually surprised that this got passed its current form, despite the heavily centralized nature of government in Australia. The problems with this approach seem to obviously self-evident to me, it's hard to believe that those trusted with governing the state don't understand what's at stake here.

    • Daishi

      In reply to Daekar:

      The reason it passed as it is is actually almost as ridiculous as the law itself. I started trying to write it, but it was way too long and I know no body really cares that much.

      The TLDR version: the government spent so much time blocking efforts to get improved access to medical treatment for asylum seekers we’re holding in desert island concentration camps that there wasn’t time to pass amendments to the encryption laws before the end of the parliamentary year. So the opposition waved it through on a pinky swear that the changes will be made when parliament sits again in February.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Daekar:

      You may be assuming those trusted with governing the state know anything about implementing any of this. I figure nearly all of them don't. Maybe the few who do asked for everything they could for a better bargaining position.

  3. Poppapete

    A law that will negatively affect all those "good people" and have zero affect on those few "bad people".

  4. Rycott

    Ahh... the good old scare campaign.

    They wanted to get it into law in time for Christmas so they can stop the terrorists. Except that bills have a 28 day cooling off period so it can't be enforced till after Christmas.

    Australian politics at it's finest.

  5. glenn8878

    I'm sure these companies will abandon their customers on their own if they had the chance. Interesting that Facebook is somehow principled after giving up customer data without their customer's permission. Or kicking them out for having a different political point of view. We need new tech companies that will protect their customers and not censor them.

  6. chris.bridgland

    Yeah this was a total shambles all round. It only got passed through Parliament as the Government (Right Leaning) was using the issue as a scare campaign against the Opposition Labor (Left leaning) party. Labor knew this and didn't want to look weak on "National Security" leading into the upcoming Federal Election (which they are going to win as the current Government is toast). Labor spent the week opposing it on the rather obvious grounds it was flawed and were not going to pass it without serious amendments, but changed their minds at the last minute and joined the Government to pass it through Parliament. Thus avoiding a "Labor are weak on National Security" scare campaign over the Summer recess. Political expediency won the day and common sense and logic lost out, as usual.

  7. OwenM

    While Australia doesn't export a lot of technology, this law also sends a clear message to other countries not to purchase any Australian-made technology products.

  8. Bats

    Lol...Google and Facebook are part of this? That's rich.

    What exactly is the Australian Law? Guess what? Criminals have iPhones, Android phones, and all sorts of tech too. Law enforcement has to do what it needs to do. This article fails to analyze anything about the law, but rather state that the it was hastily enacted. I'm not stupid ya know. I don't need to be told what to think. Again Google and Facebook are part of this "Consortium" (big scary word)? #lazy

    • Chris

      In reply to Bats:

      Think back to the court case where Apple was asked to hack into one of the iPhones so that law enforcement could easily access it, or the court case where MS was asked to give law enforcement access to various email accounts.

      That's what the Australian Government wants, and what these tech companies are against. To also show you how bad this government really is (yes I'm an Aussie, and no I didn't vote for these troglodites), they also attempted to gain access to metadata, but couldn't explain what it was, and they also put in place a data retention law, which also (apparently) fell to pieces (probably because it was going to cost a hell of a lot more to implement and keep running than the government thought it would).

      This government decides that it needs access to something, but doesn't talk to any experts about what it would actually involve... they just talk to their mates, and themselves (the "experts" in everything) and go "hey, we will do this, and everyone will do it 'coz we say so"... (our multi-technology mix NBN was designed by an "expert" who thought that 25Mbps was plenty for everyone, and data usage rates would go down.)

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Bats:

      Implant malware seems akin to shoot first and ask questions later.

      As for undermining encryption, if some governments know how to do so, it may not be long until some nongovernment actors learn how it's been compromised. Then what?

  9. martinm

    I lived in Australia for many years, this is very typical. This is the country that also insists people go through full body scanners at airports, with no option for a "pat-down". They have long forgotten they are the servant of the people, not owners of the people. This type of wide sweeping power is disturbing, no government should be allowed this type of surveillance of its people. A timely reminder that "Security for all" is the manta of the oppressor.

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