New Laws to Give Police, Security Agencies Access to Encrypted Messages in Serious Crime

Police and intelligence agencies will be empowered to access encrypted messages under new laws that will help fight terrorism and serious crimes.

The laws, which are expected to pass parliament this week, will give police access to messages on encrypted social media applications including WhatsApp, used in criminal activity.

The Federal Government made a deal with Labor in order to progress the bill, with the government agreeing to limit the powers to investigations of “serious offences” including drug trafficking and extortion.

Attorney General Christian Porter cited a case in August 2017 in which the Australian Federal Police arrested 17 people and seized 1.9 tonnes of MDMA, cocaine and ice.

He said the case was affected by technology concerns.

“That investigation was ultimately successful, but was severely hampered by the use of encrypted technology,” Mr Porter said.

The bill include will include further scrutiny of the laws in 2019, under pressure from Labor.

Powers will only be limited to only “serious offences” and defining the term “systemic weakness.”

The laws would also safeguard law enforcement agency abilities to demand technology companies build backdoors into their products to help police access data or face a fine.

National security advisor Alastair MacGibbon said it would be a boon to police to help fight serious crimes.

“What this law does is help codify a conversation between police and telecommunication companies, that has to be reasonable, has to be proportionate, and has to be technically feasible, but it’s to work with those companies to help fight crime,” Mr MacGibbon told the ABC.

Mr Porter said a warrant would still be needed to access the encrypted messages, but would also compel tech companies to help in criminal cases.

“All this legislation does is request – and if they decline, require – the tech companies to assist us in making good on the warrant,” he said.

However, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the laws were not perfect.

“This compromise will deliver security and enforcement agencies the powers they say they need over the Christmas period, and ensure adequate oversight and safeguards,” Mr Dreyfus said.

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