Australia changes vulnerability definitions in encryption laws

14 Feb 2019

The Australian Parliament has adopted the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2019. The Bill replaced the definitions of systemic weaknesses and vulnerabilities, which are now defined only as affecting ‘a whole class of technology’, and don’t include those ‘selectively introduced to one or more target technologies that are connected with a particular person’, thereby possibly creating space for those selectively introduced to be exploited by the law enforcement agencies. In addition, the new section (317ZG) introduces certain limitations to law enforcement measures, by specifying that technical assistance requests and notices, and technical capability notices, cannot have the effect of creating new decryption capabilities or weakening existing authentication or encryption mechanisms, or create a risk that otherwise secure information be compromised by unauthorised third parties.

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Cybersecurity is among the main concerns of governments, Internet users, technical and business communities. Cyberthreats and cyberattacks are on the increase, and so is the extent of the financial loss. 

Yet, when the Internet was first invented, security was not a concern for the inventors. In fact, the Internet was originally designed for use by a closed circle of (mainly) academics. Communication among its users was open.

Cybersecurity came into sharper focus with the Internet expansion beyond the circle of the Internet pioneers. The Internet reiterated the old truism that technology can be both enabling and threatening. What can be used to the advantage of society can also be used to its disadvantage.

Cybercrime is crime committed via the Internet and computer systems. One category of cybercrimes are those affecting the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data and computer systems; they include: unauthorised access to computer systems, illegal interception of data transmissions, data interference (damaging, deletion, deterioration, alteration of suppression of data), system interf

Encryption refers to the scrambling of electronic documents and communication into an unreadable format which can be read only through the use of encryption software. Traditionally, governments were the only players who had the power and the know-how to develop and deploy powerful encryption in their military and diplomatic communications. With user-friendly packages, encryption has become affordable for any Internet users, including criminals and terrorists. This triggered many governance issues related to finding the right balance between the need to respect privacy of communication of Internet users and the need for governments to monitor some types of communication of relevance for the national security (potential criminal and terrorist activity remains an issue).

 

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