Home Government Tech Policy Encryption bill: govt bid to calm fears over backdoors
Encryption bill: govt bid to calm fears over backdoors Pixabay Featured

A representative of the Department of Home Affairs claims that under the Federal Government'e encryption bill, companies cannot be asked to build in functionality into systems or devices to remove electronic protection.

The department's assistant secretary Andrew Warnes told the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security on Monday: "The Bill expressly says under the Technical Capability Notice provisions that agencies cannot ask companies to build a capability to remove one or more forms of electronic protection."

And he added: "If they don't have the capability to do it now, we will not ask them to build the capability to do it, so that's their assurance."

A number of companies have expressed apprehension that the bill could force them to do just this very thing. Encryption company Senetas, which has sizeable exports, said in its submission: "Despite the Government’s claims to the contrary, the reality is that the proposed legislation will compromise critical encryption systems and introduce 'systemic weaknesses' into products and the internet as a whole."

And the Australian Information Industry Association has warned that the bill would lead to overseas vendors withdrawing from the Australian market as they would not want their products to be caught in the government's dragnet.

Mike Burgess, director of the Australian Signals Directorate, said this would be up to the company in question, adding that he did not think Apple, for instance, would not want to sell its products in Australia.

Monday's hearing was held at the insistence of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton who are pushing for the bill — officially known as the Telecommunications and other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access Bill) 2018 — to be passed before Parliament rises for the year.

There are two more weeks of sittings and with a federal election due by May 2019, the government apparently does not want to take the risk of the bill still being debated in Parliament at the time a poll is called. That would mean the bill would be junked.

Given the devastating defeat dealt to the Coalition in the Victorian state elections on the weekend, there is no certainty that Morrison will wait out the full term, but rather that he will call an election at the time he thinks the government, which is already in minority, has the best chance of winning.

Monday's hearing began more than 90 minutes behind schedule, and, apart from Home Affairs and the ASD, the Australian Federal Police, ASIO and Victoria Police tried to convince the PJCIS that the bill should be pushed through Parliament in the next fortnight.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.


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