Melbourne terror plot sparks debate about encryption laws

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton wants proposed legislation allowing police to read encrypted messages made law soon, after a terror plot was foiled.

A foiled terrorist attack in Melbourne has renewed Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton's push for new laws to allow police to access encrypted messages.

Three men were charged with terrorism offences on Tuesday, with police saying the accused were using encrypted communications.

A Liberal-chaired federal parliamentary committee is examining legislation that would require technology companies to hand over encrypted messages when authorities are investigating crimes.

Mr Dutton wants the laws to clear federal parliament as soon as possible.

"It's been delayed now within the committee process and we have to get it out of that process and into the parliament as quickly as possible," he said in Sydney on Tuesday.

Peter Dutton said the new arrests prove Australia needs tougher counter-terror laws.
Source: AAP

"The technology now has got ahead of where the law is.

"We are finding ourselves in a particular black spot where the police are blind to the telecommunications across these messaging apps and it is unacceptable."

However, Digital Rights Watch chairman Tim SIngleton-Norton warns an increase in police powers should not be taken lightly.

What is encryption?

"The government hasn't actually answered ... how are they going to create the checks and balances to ensure only certain people that we think are okay have access," he told ABC Radio on Wednesday.

But the chairman of the parliamentary committee examining the bill, Andrew Hastie, said the matter was urgent.

"We're now in the middle of the inquiry and we've taken quite a bit of evidence and we'll bring that to a conclusion soon," Mr Hastie told Sky News.

The chances of passing the bill in the final sitting fortnight for the year appear slim, with the committee due to hold three more public hearings including one just two days before parliament rises for the year.

Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek said the encryption laws need a closer look.

Published 21 November 2018 at 6:34am, updated 21 November 2018 at 7:32am