Australia passes controversial law on encryption

7 Dec 2018

Australia passed a controversial law, the Assistance and Access Bill, designed to compel technology companies to grant law enforcement agencies access to encrypted messages. According to the Guardian, the law intends to ‘co-opt technology companies, device manufacturers and service providers into building the functionality needed for police to do their spying’ and ‘give to Australian agencies the ability to install key logging software to enable them to see, keystroke by keystroke, what users type into a message’. The law was adopted despite strong criticism from civil society organisations and leading tech companies, such as Apple, Cisco, Mozilla, Google, and Facebook.

Explore the issues

Privacy and data protection are two interrelated Internet governance issues. Data protection is a legal mechanism that ensures privacy. Privacy is usually defined as the right of any citizen to control their own personal information and to decide about it (to disclose information or not). Privacy is a fundamental human right. It is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in many other international and regional human rights conventions. The July 2015 appointment of the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age reflects the rising importance of privacy in global digital policy, and the recognition of the need to address privacy rights issues the the global, as well as national levels.

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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