Thursday, 25 June 2020 10:55

Republicans follow in Australia's encryption law footsteps

Republicans follow in Australia's encryption law footsteps Image by Biljana Jovanovic from Pixabay

Three politicians from the US Republican Party have introduced a bill in the Senate that would make it mandatory for technology companies to help break encryption if it would aid law enforcement in enforcing a warrant.

Named the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act, the bill was introduced by Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, Tom Cotton and Marsha Blackburn.

In effect, the bill seeks the same outcome as the encryption law passed by Australia in 2018. There are three ways listed in this law by which the authorities can get industry to aid in gaining access to encrypted material. A technical assistance request (TAR) allows for voluntary help by a company; in this case, its staff would be given civil immunity from prosecution.

An interception agency can issue a technical assistance notice (TAN) to make a communications provider offer assistance.

Finally, a technical capability notice (TCN) can be issued by the attorney-general at the request of an interception agency; the communications minister of the day would also need to agree. This will force a company to help law enforcement, by building functionality.

The American bill does not clearly say that technology firms should create backdoors as the attorney-general is not allowed to tell companies how they should go about complying with lawful access orders.

Additionally, companies that receive orders to break encryption can go to court to have the orders changed or dumped.

Graham said in a statement: "Terrorists and criminals routinely use technology, whether smartphones, apps, or other means, to co-ordinate and communicate their daily activities. In recent history, we have experienced numerous terrorism cases and serious criminal activity where vital information could not be accessed, even after a court order was issued.

"Unfortunately, tech companies have refused to honour these court orders and assist law enforcement in their investigations. My position is clear: After law enforcement obtains the necessary court authorisations, they should be able to retrieve information to assist in their investigations.

"Our legislation respects and protects the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans. It also puts the terrorists and criminals on notice that they will no longer be able to hide behind technology to cover their tracks."

US attorney-general William Barr said in a statement the passage of a law that allowed warrant access to encrypted data would provide additional safety and security for the people.

"While strong encryption provides enormous benefits to society and is undoubtedly necessary for the security and privacy of Americans, end-to-end encryption technology is being abused by child predators, terrorists, drug traffickers, and even hackers to perpetrate their crimes and avoid detection," he said.

"Warrant-proof encryption allows these criminals to operate with impunity. This is dangerous and unacceptable.

"Indeed, the danger is particularly great for children who are targeted online for sexual exploitation, especially during this time of coronavirus lockdowns.

"Survivors of child sexual abuse and their families have pleaded with technology companies to do more to prevent predators from exploiting their platforms to harm children. We cannot allow these companies to elevate their profits and the privacy rights of these abusers over the safety and security of children.

"The bill announced today [Tuesday] balances the privacy interests of consumers with the public safety interests of the community by requiring the makers of consumer devices to provide law enforcement with access to encrypted data when authorised by a judge.

"I am confident that our world-class technology companies can engineer secure products that protect user information and allow for lawful access. Data security and public safety are not mutually exclusive. Encryption should keep us safe and secure, not provide an impenetrable safe haven for predators, terrorists, and criminals."

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Sam Varghese

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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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