Human Rights Watch chief Kenneth Roth has labelled the Australian Government’s proposed legislation to give law enforcement agencies access to communications sent via encrypted services a “crazy idea”.
“The Australian Government wants to build what they call a back door into end-to-end encryption. And the result would be, basically its weakening end to end encryption, it’s not just the government that will snoop, its hackers, its bad guys, it’s the Chinese and Russian governments, so this is a crazy idea,” Roth told the audience on ABC’s Q&A programme last night.
“You can’t weaken end to end encryption; weaken our privacy protections for just law enforcement purposes without weakening your privacy protections for everything you do. You don’t want to go there,” he added.
Ministers of Communications and the Arts Mitchell Fifield, appearing alongside Roth on the panel, repeated the government’s stock-line regarding their encryption crackdown: “We’re not looking for a back door into people’s encrypted communications.”
The government is preparing to unveil legislation that it says will boost the ability of law enforcement agencies to access to communications sent using encrypted services.
It has not yet revealed any detail about how the proposed legislation will function and is yet to spell out how any new laws would deal with end-to-end encryption.
“The ordinary rules of the land, the ordinary laws of the land apply in the online space. If police have concern that someone is going to undertake an illegal activity, they can seek a warrant they can seek a phone tap to try and intercept the phone message. It shouldn’t be any different if you’re talking about a different sort of technology,” Fifield said last night.
Except it is. As Roth pointed out.
“Of course the police can always seek a warrant,” Roth retorted. “And if you go to a company that allows end to end encryption their answer will be: we can’t get in there, end to end encryption means we don’t have access to that communication.”
End-to-end encryption services are intended – barring design or implementation flaws – to resist decryption by both the service providers and third parties.
“What the government wants to do is to change that. They want to make it so when you seek a warrant the company says – oh yeah we can use our special on the side technique to get in there – that’s a backdoor,” Roth said.
“They don’t like to use the term backdoor, they want to weaken our privacy protections. And it’s not just going to be for law enforcement, it’s going to be for every bad guy who wants your data.”
Grahame Morris, who was also on the panel, said Apple was “really really anxious and toey” about the government’s proposed changes.
Morris is federal director of Barton Deakin Government Relations, which counts Apple among its clients.
In February, Digital Industry Group Incorporated (DIGI) – a group whose members include Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oath and Twitter – urged caution over any regulatory moves by the government that could compromise the effectiveness of encryption.
“The only way you can break encryption – Apple can’t do it, nobody can do it at the moment – is that you put a little key in there so that Apple or somebody can do it and the police can ask for it,” Morris said.
“But the minute you build in that backdoor key, every lunatic in the world is going to be trying to get the Apple key, and your privacy will be stuffed,” he added.
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