Australia’s foremost privacy experts have called for draft legislation that would grant law enforcement the power to effectively break encryption and damage key technological infrastructure, to be withdrawn.

In a submission written by Digital Rights Watch, Australian Privacy Foundation, Electronic Frontiers Australia, Future Wise, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Access Now, Blueprint for Free Speech, the groups have outlined deep concerns with the draft Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018.

“The government’s attempt to legislate powers that are broad, lack sufficient accountability and transparency, and put our digital society at risk has been widely and systematically rejected by experts in the field,” said Tim Singleton Norton, Chair of Digital Rights Watch.

“Despite the ridiculously short timeframe that the Government allowed for this consultation, the volume of criticism has been overwhelming – from privacy experts, technology companies, civil liberties advocates and telecommunications providers.”

“We’ve also seen a staggering response from the Australian public, with over 14,000 people writing directly to the Government in defence of their right to use encryption. It is easy to assume the public is too disengaged or uninterested to have a view on these kinds of issues, but the strong and sophisticated response makes it clear the opposite is true. The Government would do well to heed this warning,” said Mr Singleton Norton.

“It is deeply concerning that the Government is proposing additional powers to its arsenal that will allow the forcing of communications and technology companies to provide information about how networks are built and how information is stored, or to directly access encrypted data if they have a key. With no warrant or oversight process proposed other than that these orders must be ‘reasonable and proportionate’, what assurances does anyone have that these powers will not be abused?” said Lyndsey Jackson, Chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia.

“What occurs in Australia will have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the world. As witnessed just recently in a joint statement by the security agencies of the Five Eyes Governments, a jurisdictional precedent could be set here that will impact the global community. The Australian government should be wary of becoming a testing ground for policies that undermine privacy and security in the digital era,” said Nathan White, Senior Legislative Manager at Access Now

“The broad powers outlined in the bill are neither necessary nor proportionate. Police already have existing broad powers, such as their ability to covertly hack devices at the endpoints when information is not encrypted. The government needs to act to strengthen, not erode Australian’s human rights and privacy protections,” said Kat Lane, Vice-Chair of Australian Privacy Foundation.

“Any attempt to break encryption would be devastating to our rights, our economy and the internet as a whole. It is clear that the government’s entire approach to this legislation is untenable. This Bill should be withdrawn and its proponents sent back to the drawing board,” concluded Mr Singleton Norton

Notes:

  • A full version of the submission is available here.
  • The joint submission was written and endorsed by Digital Rights Watch, Australian Privacy Foundation, Electronic Frontiers Australia, Future Wise, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Access Now, Blueprint for Free Speech, with assistance from experts Dr Adam Molnar, Lizzie O’Shea, Dr Monique Mann, Angus Murray, Peter Tonoli, Bruno Watt and Dr Suelette Dreyfus.
  • In total, 14,918 people have written to the Australian Government, expressing their concerns over the draft legislation.