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Australian Government Wants to Access Encrypted Messages

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In Australia, Turnbull government is seeking to implement law changes that would grant enhanced powers to intelligence agencies to access encrypted message communications. The new law would oblige Internet companies, such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Google to cooperate by providing a ‘backdoor’ to encrypted communications on their systems.

George Brandis, the Attorney-General for Australia, touched upon the subject in an interview for Sky News. The question of enhancing the legal obligations will be presented to the other members of Five Eyes network: the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand.

A New Crypto War?

A flashback to the 1990s, when the US government initiated the “Clipper Chip” – a chipset that  served as a built-in backdoor in consumer electronics – marks one of the earliest attempts of governmental agencies to regulate encryption. Not only it happened to be a massive failure, but it also started a clash known as “Crypto Wars” between encryption supporters and the government attempting to have access to encrypted communications.

Turnbull government’s proposal signals that the history might be repeated. Australia’s case is not about creating a ‘backdoor’, as emphasized by George Brandis. However, it is hard to imagine in what other way the proposal can be implemented technically.

In order for George’s Brandis’ plan to come to reality, it would take an intrusive surveillance regime combined with app and tech companies having access keys for decrypting communications.

Nowadays, strong encryption is a go-to standard for companies providing online communication services. Signal, Whatsapp and Telegram are a few of the most popular examples of apps securing messages with encryption. Messages sent via such apps can’t be decrypted, but if they could, they would be less secure and become vulnerable to hackers and third-party interceptions.

Safety vs Liberty

The proposal doesn’t state whether the intelligence agencies will need a warrant in order to access encrypted communications. According to George Brandis, this is still a question up for discussion.

Providing the government with enhanced snooping powers in order to fight a very specific threat of terrorism has sparked contradicting opinions. Ed Husic, a Labor frontbencher, believes that it’s a right measure to protect people from extremist violence: “I think the public is willing, more open to the notion that if we have to sacrifice some of our liberties to protect ourselves, we are willing to do it.”

On the opposing side, Greens MP Adam Bandt sees the initiative as liberty-diminishing:

“The idea that somehow, by treating everyone as a suspect and saying that no longer are you able to have secure communications with someone else, no longer can you talk confidentially, that everything is potentially going to be open to the government is, again, very, very worrying,”

Our View

We at NordVPN believe that people have a right to keep their online communications private.

Creating a ‘backdoor’ in encrypted messaging systems makes them less secure and puts users’ personal information at threat. Communications data available to be decrypted not only lets intelligence agencies to access it for investigation purposes; unsecured data attracts hackers as well, this way putting private citizens’ data at risk of being exploited in an inappropriate way.

 



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