December 6, 2018 — The Australian Parliament has abruptly passed legislation that would allow law enforcement to compel companies to weaken the security of their platforms in order to guarantee access to private digital communications. The legislation, known as the Assistance and Access Bill, will undermine the security of communications platforms, which threatens the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. The Parliament passed this legislation before adjourning for the holidays despite numerous Members of Parliament stating that the legislation is flawed and must be amended.
The legislation would allow the Australian government to issue secret orders to compel companies and providers to do “acts or things” to comply with lawful orders to provide information. That could mean guaranteeing access to otherwise secure messaging platforms like WhatsApp.
“This is a shocking turn of events, and demonstrates an alarming lack of understanding about how technology works. In a shortsighted attempt to appear tough on crime, the Parliament of Australia is undermining the security of all Australians and everyone around the world that uses technology,” said Lucie Krahulcova, Policy Analyst at Access Now. “At a time when other governments are debating vulnerabilities disclosure and the need to secure our online ecosystem, Australia is choosing to implement at-will weaknesses.”
By undermining the digital security of users, the Australian Parliament is acting in lock-step with governments that seek to use technology to control citizens. Australia is evidently turning its back on the opportunity to lead the world in protecting human rights, digital security, and the free flow of information.
Using patching updates as a way to compromise systems is antithetical to every rule in the cybersecurity rule book. The impact that this will have on companies small and large cannot be enumerated. It will undoubtedly undermine user trust in their products and services not only in Australia but around the world.
“The silver lining here is that Members of Parliament are on record agreeing that the bill is flawed and that it must be amended and fixed. We look forward to working with Parliament in the new year to ensure that each Member has a full understanding of this bill and the human rights it will impact,” said Krahulcova.