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Encryption: Apple, US Pals Firm Up Plan To Take On Oz Govt

The growing controversy over the Australian Government’s planned new encryption laws took further strength yesterday, as major overseas tech companies Apple, Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook confirmed plans to take on the Morrison Government in opposition to the laws.

This follows Tuesday’s revelation (CDN, yesterday) that the companies are among those joining forces with Australia’s Communications Alliance and Alliance for a Safe and Secure Internet in opposing the Government’s rush to accelerate passage of the planned bill, which is being handled by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Alphabet, Apple, Amazon and Facebook yesterday confirmed that will jointly lobby the Federal Parliament to amend the bill ahead of a parliamentary vote, expected in a few weeks, according to a Reuters report.

Representatives for the four companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to Reuters, if the bill becomes law, Australia will become one of the first nations to impose broad access requirements on technology companies, though others are poised to follow. 

The so-called Five Eyes nations –  the USA, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – which share intelligence, claim their national security could be at risk, as authorities are unable to monitor communication of suspects.  They are demanding access to encrypted e-mails, text messages and voice communications through legislation, such as that now being pushed for rapid passage through Parliament by Australia.

New Zealand, under PM  Jacinda Ardern, is the latest to tighten oversight over access to online communication, announcing yesterday that its customs officers now have authority to compel visitors to hand over passwords for their electronic devices. Tourists who refuse face fines of up to NZ$5000 (A$4585). 

Peter Dutton’s proposed encryption bill would give Australian law enforcement even tougher powers to conduct covert surveillance on any electronic devices and compel technology companies to assist in decrypting private communications– possibly even including building so-called “backdoors” into products sold to the public. 

Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton has called proposed bill “scary”, adding that “the scope of this legislation sets a disturbing first-world benchmark and poses real threats to the cybersecurity and privacy rights of all Australians.”

The bill has been referred to a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS). The public has only until tomorrow week, Friday October 12, to voice any concerns. A first hearing is set for one week later.

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