Australia

Labor says 'more work to be done' on encryption bill amid Law Council warning

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Intelligence agencies will be able to force tech companies to help them crack into encrypted communications under the laws.

Australia has passed landmark laws that will give security agencies new powers to force tech companies to write them code to help crack encrypted messages, after Labor dropped last-minute amendments and voted with the Morrison government to pass the controversial bill.

The opposition has promised to revisit the changes when parliament resumes in February 2019, with leader Bill Shorten saying he wanted agencies to have the powers over the Christmas period.

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He admits the bill was rushed through Parliament, but said he plans to pursue amendments to the bill in the new year.

"There are legitimate concerns about the encryption legislation," Mr Shorten said.

"But I wasn't prepared to walk away from my job and leave matters in a stand-off and expose Australians to increased risk in terms of national security."

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Dutton's decryption laws explained
Dutton's decryption laws explained

Labor agreed to drop amendments it had been pushing for after the Coalition government raised concerns about national security, relating to terror threats over the holidays.

Labor said its support is conditional on the government amending the new laws in February.

Earlier on Thurday evening, when Labor announced it would pursue further changes in the Senate, it appeared the legislation was not going to pass in time.

As MPs filed out of Parliament House, Coalition members expressed their “disappointment”, while Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese blasted the bill as “nonsense legislation” that the government “still hadn’t got right”.

Shortly after, Mr Albanese’s colleagues in the Senate agreed to drop their amendments and pass the bill.

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ASIO would 'immediately' use new encryption powers to target terror
ASIO would 'immediately' use new encryption powers to target terror

“This ensures that our national security and law enforcement agencies have the modern tools they need, with appropriate authority and oversight, to access the encrypted conversations of those who seek to do us harm,” Attorney-General Christian Porter said.

The government’s Senate leader, Mathias Cormann, said the government had indeed agreed to revisit the issue in the new year.

The Law Council said it was unacceptable that the laws were passed while so many in the parliament acknowledged there were ongoing problems.

"We now have a situation where unprecedented powers to access encrypted communications are now law, even though parliament knows serious problems exist," president Morry Bailes said.

The Human Rights Commission called for further changes to strengthen judicial oversight. 

“This new law will dramatically increase the access of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to the private communications of ordinary Australians, with implications for our right to privacy and freedom of expression," commissioner Edward Santow said. 

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Shorten vows to pursue encryption bill changes in new year
Shorten vows to pursue encryption bill changes in new year

The passage of the bill was met with dismay from some IT and tech company workers on social media.

“I've spent 20+ years building cryptography and security software. Now the Australian govt is considering laws that could coerce me to add backdoors,” one user wrote.

“This is akin to requiring a doctor to infect a patient or an engineer to weaken a bridge.”

The tech industry has previously told SBS News some firms may leave Australia altogether rather than complying with the law.

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