The infamous Turnbull government is seeking to implement law changes that would grant enhanced powers to intelligence agencies to access encrypted message communications. The new law would oblige Internet companies, such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Google to cooperate by providing a ‘backdoor’ to encrypted communications on their systems.
George Brandis, the Attorney-General for Australia, touched upon the subject in an interview for Sky News. The question of enhancing the legal obligations will be presented to the other members of Five Eyes network: the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand.
In order for George’s Brandis’ plan to come to reality, it would take an intrusive surveillance regime combined with app and tech companies having access keys for decrypting communications.
Nowadays, strong encryption is a go-to standard for companies providing online communication services. Signal, Whatsapp and Telegram are a few of the most popular examples of apps securing messages with encryption. Messages sent via such apps can’t be decrypted, but if they could, they would be less secure and become vulnerable to hackers and third-party interceptions.
Safety vs Liberty
The proposal doesn’t state whether the intelligence agencies will need a warrant in order to access encrypted communications. According to George Brandis, this is still a question up for discussion.
Providing the government with enhanced snooping powers in order to fight a very specific threat of terrorism has sparked contradicting opinions. Ed Husic, a Labor frontbencher, believes that it’s a right measure to protect people from extremist violence: “I think the public is willing, more open to the notion that if we have to sacrifice some of our liberties to protect ourselves, we are willing to do it.”
On the opposing side, Greens MP Adam Bandt sees the initiative as liberty-diminishing:
“The idea that somehow, by treating everyone as a suspect and saying that no longer are you able to have secure communications with someone else, no longer can you talk confidentially, that everything is potentially going to be open to the government is, again, very, very worrying,”
What can you do?
The best thing to do is to make sure the apps for your messages are using end to end encryption. WhatsApp does and others will too.