What the other Four Eyes make of Australia’s encryption crackdown

Brandis in Canada to push government's anti-encryption agenda.

By George Nott
June 27, 2017

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 between Australia, 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

US: 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 backdoors.

“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, in March.

Last year, the FBI publicly feuded with 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.

Canada: 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.

United 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”.

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