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AFP says it made three requests for assistance in breaking encryption in 2019-20 Featured

AFP says it made three requests for assistance in breaking encryption in 2019-20 Image by meineresterampe from Pixabay

The Australian Federal Police has told the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that it has used technical assistance requests issued under the encryption law passed in December 2018 on three occasions in the financial year 2019-20, to obtain assistance from companies or individuals in breaking encryption to gain access to information needed for investigation of crimes.

Under the law, which is officially known as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, technical assistance requests seek voluntary help by a company; its staff will be given civil immunity from prosecution.

If this is not agreed to by the company in question, an interception agency can then issue a technical assistance notice or TAN to make a communications provider offer assistance based on existing functionality.

If this is not effective either in convincing the organisation in question to co-operate with law enforcement, then a technical capability notice can be issued by the Attorney-General at the request of an interception agency.

This will have to be also approved by the Communications Minister and will force a company to help law enforcement, by building functionality. A TCN cannot demand the decryption of information or removal of electronic protection in any system.

In a submission to the PJCIS, the AFP said as per previous submissions and appearances before the panel and in the review of the law by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, Dr James Renwick, the tempo and complexity of the criminal threat environment was evolving with increasing use of technology by criminal groups and their networks, to facilitate and obfuscate criminal conduct.

The AFP said the encryption law provided an essential framework to strengthen the AFP’s ability to overcome technological impediments to lawful access to digital content, where necessary and appropriate.

For the previous financial year, the AFP said it had used the technical assistance requests on five occasions. This was in a much shorter period than the full 12 months, as the law came into effect only in December 2018; hence the period over which these five TARs were made was from December 2018 to 30 June 2019, a little more than six months.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came 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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