A Critical Analysis of the Proposed Assistance & Access Bill 2018—an Australian Initiative to Legitimize Decryption

The Australian government aims at enforcing a legislation that would make it mandatory for the communications industry to respond to police warrants by giving full access to its data. Technology company choosing to hold data and not allow government access might attract a hefty fine of up to $10 million. The Assistance & Access Bill 2018 does seem to be the ultimate weaponry in the Australian government’s arsenal to fight ‘modern organized crime’. However, one must be well aware of the repercussions of weakening encryption as it is the fundamental base of cyber security.   

The Government of Australia See’s Encryption as a Major Hurdle in Fighting High Victim Impact Crime 

The state of Victoria police demonstrated how a registered sex offender (RSO) evaded prosecution while he repeatedly violated his RSO and parole conditions by contacting females of 13 to 17 years of age. The state police was tipped off about the RSO and then they successfully caught hold of him. However, after arresting this person he was able to get away as the police was not able to access his phone since he didn’t give away his pass code.   

The Australian government wants to have greater levels of access in such cases where high impact victim crimes are committed. The government feels that there are plenty of reasons that lower’s the ability of the law enforcement agencies to enforce the law. However, by pushing for a legislation that legitimize decryption the government is hoping for a better future making it difficult for malicious actors to operate freely. 

A New Framework: Greater Levels of Engagement between Government and the Communication Industry  

According to the new framework, the government proposes to create a mechanism that brings both domestic and international service providers under the ambit of the law enforcement agencies. Once the law has been implemented, companies will have to comply with it by providing reasonable assistance to the law enforcement agencies.  As to what experts have in view, upon enactment of this legislation, the service providers both domestic and international could be pressurized to provide full access.  

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As mentioned in the framework, the government believes in providing the highest standards of security when it comes to the privacy of Australian citizens. Henceforth, the government deems it unlawful if the law enforcement agencies use the power levied upon them to create backdoors. The proposed law has provisions under which it intends to introduce new computer access warrants that would boost the capabilities of the law enforcers to access targeted computers both overtly or covertly.   

The Assistance & Access Bill 2018--an Australian Initiative to Legitimize Decryption? 

What needs to be taken cognizance of is the ‘trust factor’. One of the most important aspects that can have negative consequences is the loss of trust among the Australian citizens on the government.  “Only 26 per cent of Australians believe that people in government can be trusted – the lowest level since the Australian Election Studies began in 1969.” Say’s Hon Angus Taylor MP, Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security. The Government shows its good intentions while it pushes for a legislation which aims at forcing the communications industry to provide full assistance in tracking criminals and their operations. However, it’s up-to the people whether to trust the key values of the government and also trust in all arms of government and politicians.  

The government’s capability to snoop into networks and gain an upper hand is well appreciated. However, it’s equally important to maintain a balance in terms of not letting the surveillance technologies outpace democratic controls.  

It’s important that high levels of secrecy are maintained regarding the tools that would be used to get covert access to computers. Contemplating on this issue, David Cake, Chair at Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), told Red Piranha, ‘’once these surveillance tools are created they are certain to be leaked and/or demanded by foreign governments.’’  

Also ReadBehold A Nightmare Scenario As Leaked NSA tools come back to haunt, - WannaCry Ransomware Cripples Computers Across the World 

There is no doubt that the enactment and implementation of the Assistance and Access Bill 2018 might expose heaps of implications that could impact data privacy. Nevertheless, it’s the duty of Australian government authorities to make sure things don’t blow out of proportions

Date Published
August 17, 2017