What internet users Down Under say online will no longer be kept on the down low.
On Thursday, Australia’s Parliament passed the Assistance and Access Bill. The legislation will force tech companies to help Australian authorities decrypt users’ online communications — and it could represent a major blow to data privacy elsewhere in the world.
Messages sent via services such as Facebook’s Messenger or Apple’s iMessage can be encrypted. That means the message is scrambled in a way that’s unintelligible without a special key.
Solid encryption prevents a message from being readable if it’s intercepted by a third party. That’s a thorn in the side of law enforcement agencies, which have often asked tech companies to make it easier for them to access readable versions of these messages.
Both Apple and Facebook have refused to provide this help, arguing that it would jeopardize user privacy. But now that the Assistance and Access Bill is law, companies that refuse to help Australian authorities could face fines of nearly $10 million in Australian currency.
Australia is a member of the Five Eyes alliance along with Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Britain. Through the alliance, these nations agree to share intelligence information with one another, and in September they made it clear they expect tech companies to facilitate their access to that information.
“Should governments continue to encounter impediments to lawful access to information necessary to aid the protection of the citizens of our countries,”the five nations wrote in a statement, “we may pursue technological, enforcement, legislative, or other measures to achieve lawful access solutions.”
Based on the passage of Australia’s anti-encryption bill, it looks like the nation is ready to start pursuing the legislative route — and it’s not a stretch to imagine the other countries in the alliance following suit.