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