Labor, Coalition vote against strong encryption in Senate


news Both of Australia’s major political parties have explicitly rejected a Senate motion calling on the Government to support public use of strong encryption technologies, in a move that comes in the wake of the US Government’s demand that Apple provide it with a backdoor for open access to its iPhone handset.

Yesterday in the Senate, Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam (pictured) moved a motion dealing with encryption technology.

The motion called upon the Senate to note that strong digital encryption protects the personal and financial information of millions of people; that encryption is an important tool to prevent identity theft and other crime; that encryption ensures that public interest whistleblowers, journalists and other civil society actors can conduct their activities more securely; and that the Government, through services such as Medicare and Centrelink, and digital platforms such as myGov, depends on encryption to keep client information safe.

The motion also called upon the Senate to note that any decrease in public trust in digital systems and services will present an obstacle to the Government’s agile innovation agenda”.

Secondly, it called upon the Federal Government to “support the continued development and use of strong encryption technologies; resist any push from other governments to weaken encryption on personal devices; and work with law enforcement to develop alternative avenues to obtain information through warrants and targeted surveillance that does not put every Australian at greater risk of identity theft.”

The motion was defeated, with only the Greens and independent Senators Lambie, Leyonhjelm, Wang, Lazarus, Muir and Xenophon voting for it. Both Labor and the Coalition voted against the motion.

Ludlam’s motion comes amid increasing debate around how much governments should intervene in private sector use of encryption technology.

Over the past several weeks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States has repeatedly requested that technology giant Apple build a version of its iOS operating system that would allow the agency to access locked iPhones for law enforcement purposes.

One particular case revolves around December’s San Bernadino massacre. However, Apple has refused to comply, warning in a letter to customers that the demand was a “chilling” breach of privacy and would have far-reaching implications.

The issue has been discussed in Australia over the past several weeks.

Attorney-General George Brandis has joined those who call for Apple to concede on the affair, telling the ABC: “We would expect, as in Australia, that all orders of courts should be obeyed by any party which is the subject of a lawful order by a court.”

“Frankly, if data is encrypted in a way that is entirely inaccessible, without the cooperation of the ISP or the maker of the device, then that makes inaccessible relevant investigative information that would hitherto have been accessible and that’s a problem for law enforcement,” Brandis went on to say.

The eSafety Commissioner Alastair MacGibbon took a similar view when he tweeted that the US Government’s request seemed “reasonable”.

Ludlam did not speak on the issue in the Senate yesterday, but issued a statement last week stating that encryption developers “should not be bullied” into making digital protections weaker.

“The US FBI’s demand that Apple build a ‘back door’ into the iPhone is extraordinarily reckless. There are millions of iOS devices in use in Australia. This proposal would put every single one of those users at risk of identity theft,” said Ludlam.

“We’re already enduring the expensive, intrusive and ineffective metadata retention scheme in the name of the ‘war on terror’. Using the tragedies of terror attacks for a blatant power grab is an absolute disgrace, and it will have no tangible impact, and huge consequences.”

“We strongly urge Attorney-General George Brandis to help keep millions of Australian smartphone users safe, and write to his US counterparts to urge them to reconsider the request to break a technology we all depend on.”

Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting


  1. “demand that Apple provide it with a backdoor for open access to its iPhone handset.”

    True, but unrelated to encryption. They want a backdoor to brute force the pass code to unlock the device not the encryption itself.

    • Apple should just reply that they can’t agree due to the DMCA preventing them from breaking technical protection measures.

  2. And here we see both major parties approach to encryption … as something to be broken so they can get a looksee at other people’s data, rather than as a technology to protect private information (including the government’s own).

    *shakes head*


    Scott Ludlam gets it, the minor parties get it. What is it with major parties and their assault on personal freedoms these days?

    • Coalition’s voting “constituents” wouldn’t approve. *cough*Corporations*cough*

      And Labor has to say yes or else they’ll be shown as being “weak”. “Weak” to what I don’t know..

  3. The world has turned upside-down when the Greens make more sense than the other two parties…

      • Bizarrely the Greens are far more liberal (by the dictionary definition) than the Liberal party and also far stronger on workers rights (and rights in general) than Labor.

        They’re also far, far less authoritarian than either. I disagree with them on many things but I would trust them far more with my freedom.

  4. Just another nail in the coffin to us working class by an elitists hammer.

    It is without saying that a governments agenda is to enforce its will upon its citizens until such times as a revolt occurs. Then, in time, the pattern repeats itself.

    A global uprising may just occur in my lifetime.

    Exciting times.

  5. I’ve really had enough of the BS that those who have sworn to protect us manage to put us in harms way time and again.
    If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that our beloved leader(s) are trying to tear this once great nation apart.
    Lets invade a foreign country on a pretext of lies – so they can hate us some more and riot at our beaches.
    Lets sell off all of our resources – and the land which provides them, so we can send more money overseas by buying it back and ratchet up our debt.
    Lets sit in the UN and bray we’re for human rights while forcing people into life sentences with no charge and no chance of parole.
    Lets assume anyone is a criminal and arrest them if three or more gather to buy an ice cream (leave the protective leather and bikes at home boys).
    Lets take away the right to protect ourselves – both in and out of our homes. If you manage to survive, you can pad a lawyers wallet while begging for compensation that never gets paid.
    Lets put a tax on living – so the tax to earnings ratio exceeds 35% for those who can least afford it. The cost of living will eat up the rest (and more).
    Lets tax em even higher if they, god forbid, miser themselves and try to invest their way out of paycheck to mouth with investments backed by an asset.
    Lets take away the right to privacy so foreign corporations, governments or just everyday hackers can read your secrets, steal your assets or just cause you a world of financial hurt for decades after.

    I could go on…. but I’m leaving.

    Everything that made me proud as an australian has been eroded away in the last 20 years and I’m over it.
    There are many cheaper countries where no one gives a fcuk as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Sure it might not be like the life you grew up in but at least you don’t have to shake your head when the powers that rule slip innocuous hints about raising gst, selling off vast swathes of farmland, privatize and increase the essential costs or pay homage to the reds or blues on the field. Bread and circuses people. Bread and circuses.

    I’ll live like a merchant prince on $2500 AUD a month with a no-longer foreign passport, surrounded by like minded expats.

    Not much longer now…

  6. Politicians need to back away from this near vertical slope made out of butter with extreme urgency.

    Privacy matters. Governments who invade people’s privacy too heavily don’t normally have or leave a favourable legacy. If Apple agree to help the FBI, what’s to stop the same method from being used again? Pretty much nothing. What’s to prevent the information from being misused (either this time or next)? Again pretty much nothing.

  7. This is a money issue against casual snooping. They could always read the phone or whatever, except
    1) They may have to destroy the phone in the process
    2) They would have to employ a few well paid technical boffins
    3) They can use a mail order service to crack the phone – Russiaian sites offer this for a fee
    4) They are lying when they say they can’t do it – they are either cheap or incompetent – pick one.
    5) If they use hardware back doors, they will have to compensate the owner

    Physical possession is 9/10th of the law.
    Once law enforcement physically have the phone/device , they can use an electron microscope and laser to drill holes in the memory or security chip , bypass this and that, and read all the data. The maker has supplied the algorithm, so the authorities can with a rainbow book, probably easily read and de-crypt things. In addition it appears remote backup as a back door is already in most phones, providing law enforcement is not stupid and alters credentials.

    It shows our pollies lack technical literacy, and receive poor advice.

  8. I guess the next step is to do away with elected government. It would seem that Attorney-General George Brandis believes that Australians may just be to dumb to be trusted.

  9. I suppose the odd bad guy might be stupid enough to leave some breadcrumbs lying around thinking that encryption would keep that from prying eyes but seriously how many professional bad guys would be that moronic?!? Hidden little black books, face to face and dead drops will never go out of fashion for the professionals – I use encryption to protect myself from common or garden variety identity thieves – I have no doubt that government agencies can and do access whatever they want – buggered if we should make it trivially easy for them though.

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