Australia will push “thwarting the encryption of terrorist
messaging” at a meeting of the Five Eyes nations in Canada this week.
Attorney-General George Brandis and Minister for Immigration and
Border Protection Peter Dutton said the need for cooperation from service
providers regarding encryption will be raised as a “priority issue” in the security
talks betweenAustralia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“As Australia’s priority issue, I will raise the need to address
ongoing challenges posed by terrorists and criminals using encryption. These
discussions will focus on the need to cooperate with service providers to
ensure reasonable assistance is provided to law enforcement and security
agencies,” Brandis said in a statement yesterday.
Australia is likely to gain cautious support from other Five Eye member nations. While many back the concept of compelling tech firms to give them access to encrypted data, it is yet unclear how this will work in practice.
Each nation must also consider past embarrassments in the area, and likely kick-back from privacy advocates and technology companies.
Four Eyes’ view
Before losing his position as FBI director, James Comey set out the position of
the US with regards to encryption, saying an international agreement between governments
could ease fears about IT products with government-mandated
“I could imagine a community of nations committed to the rule
of law developing a set of norms, a framework, for when government access is
appropriate,” he said at an address at the University of Texas at Austin,
Last year, the FBI publiclyfeudedwith Apple over gaining
access to a locked iPhone from the San Bernardino shooter. Comey argued said
the tech industry can find an approach that creates government access, while
keeping malicious actors out.
Comey was dismissed by President Donald Trump in May.
In 2013, the NSA paid computer
security firm RSA $10 million in
secret to implement a “back door” into its encryption, a deal exposed
in leaks made by Edward Snowden.
In March, Dominic Rochon, chief privacy officer of Canada’s
Communications Security Establishment (CSE, comparable to the Australian
Signals Directorate) said in a speech that terrorists were “adaptive and tech-savvy” and used “powerful encryption to
better avoid detection”.
However, a recent national security federal consultation in
the country saw majority opposition to weakening encryption technology. “If
encryption is weakened or outlawed, criminals will continue to have access to
it and it is law-abiding citizens who will suffer. That is a bad outcome,” the
Information Technology Association of Canada noted
in its submission.
Kingdom: UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd, speaking in the wake of a spate of
terrorist attacks in the country, said that tech firms need
to “limit the amount of end-to-end
encryption that terrorists can use”.
UK has already passed its Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which put
into law a requirement for technology providers to provide the government with a
backdoor into end-to-end encryption. However, the government is yet to detail
how the act will work in practice and how it will compel overseas providers to
Zealand: The government in New Zealand has not yet stated a firm position on expanding
its powers around encryption. In
February, Andrew Hampton, director of New Zealand’s Government
Communication’s Security Bureau, spoke of the importance of the bureau
being “transparent as possible” and accountable for its actions.
Dispelling the myth that Five Eyes was a “shadowy
intelligence sharing partnership”, Hampton said that it was“just not that shadowy”.
“As with all of our activities, any sharing of intelligence
with partners needs to be in accordance with New Zealand law and our
international human rights obligations,” he said.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that
encrypted messaging apps were frequently used by “criminals and terrorists” but
“at the moment, much of this traffic is difficult for our security agencies to
In a national security statement to the House
of Representatives, Turnbull explained that the Five Eyes summit would be used
to discuss how to prevent terrorists and criminals from operating “with
impunity in ungoverned digital spaces online”.
“This is not about creating or exploiting back doors, as some
privacy advocates continue to say, despite constant reassurance from us. It is
about collaboration with and assistance from industry in the pursuit of public