Australian gov't to force social media websites to hand over terror-related encrypted messages

by Matt Walsh

CANBERRA, July 14 (Xinhua) -- The Australian government said on Friday that it will introduce new laws requiring internet giants such as Googleand Facebookto assist law enforcement agencies by handing over and decrypting messages from suspected terrorists and criminals.

Similar to Britain's Investigatory Powers Act, which requires companies to comply with investigations, the new laws are set to be introduced into Parliament when sitting resumes next month.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday that world leaders agreed at last week's G20 meetings in Hamburg that more needed to be done to stop terrorists and criminals from communicating freely online.

Speaking at a media conference, Turnbull said Australia's laws needed to apply "online as well as offline."

"We need to ensure that the internet is not used as a dark place for bad people to hide their criminal activities from the law, and the AFP must have the powers, as do the other intelligence agencies to enforce the law online as well as offline," Turnbull said.

"Increasingly, communications across the net, whether it's messaging or voice applications, are encrypted end-to-end. So while they can be intercepted, they cannot be read.

"We want to ensure the brilliant tech companies bring their brilliance to assist the rule of law. Not through 'back doors', but through legitimate ways so they can keep us safe," he said.

"These are vitally important reforms designed to keep Australians safe."

Speaking at the same press conference, Attorney-General George Brandis explained that encrypted messages were the "greatest degradation of intelligence capability ever seen," and that the government intends to "work with the companies" to resolve the issue of serious crime being hidden online.

"We are not changing any existing legal principle," Brandis said. "We are contemporizing the existing laws. The laws were written before the advent of social media and before the ability to encrypt messages online."

"In the spring sittings of Parliament, the government will bring in legislation which will impose an obligation upon device manufacturers and service providers to provide appropriate assistance to law enforcement when it is necessary to interdict or to investigate serious crime, be it counter terrorism, organized crime, or the operation of pedophile networks."

Earlier on Friday, speaking on the Nine Network, the coalition government's Leader of the House and Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said the government does not expect any resistance from the industry giants, considering the potential implications involved in letting terrorists go unchecked.

"I think if (companies) do try and fight the government trying to protect Australians they'll be on the wrong side of the argument," Pyne said.

Meanwhile the opposition has said it would consider a bipartisan approach to the laws; spokesperson Anthony Albanese said the opposition Labor Party's priority was "keeping Australians safe."

"We'll look at any legislation with the same approach we've had to all of this, which is a common-sense approach that we must keep Australians safe," Albanese told Nine Network.

"Governments have that responsibility and we should have a bipartisan approach."

[ Editor: meng ]


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