New Technology Law leaves out Australian Tech Companies

In an attempt to strengthen Technology Legislation in Australia, the Country’s Home Affairs Department has, according to some reports, not taken the local Australian industry into confidence. The federal department released a public draft that allows the government to get and in certain cases force technology companies to help police access encrypted messages. The consultation process included a number of big technology names in the world but excluded home grown Australian industries.

Apple, Telstra, Vodafone, Google, Facebook, Microsoft other more formed the list of company that were included in consultation by the department before the draft that gives the body forced access, which if denied, levies heavy fines, into encrypted messages, if deemed a threat or criminal.

The talks with companies began as early as 2017 and constantly touched base, according to heavily redacted records obtained under freedom of information laws. The communication shows no traces of any dialogue on the matter with the local technology names. This raises red flags as to the department’s complete oversight of the impact such a decision with make on the local industries and their reputations globally.

The law will equip the police department with the power to access encrypted messages on WhatsApp and the likes. There are three main clauses to the released draft;

  • A technical assistance request (TAR): Police ask a company to “voluntarily” help, such as give technical details about the development of a new online service
  • A technical assistance notice (TAN): A company is required to give assistance. For example, they must decrypt a specific communication if they can, or face fines
  • A technical capability notice (TCN): The company must build a new function to help police get at a suspect’s data, or face fines

Under these laws, the company has little or no power in deciding the process. The route has come under severe scrutiny, with attending members who were consulted calling the meetings substandard and the drafting sketchy and indefinite.

John Stanton, chief executive of the Communications Alliance, which represents the telecommunications sector, said “the basic message” was not to worry as the legislation “would not create any backdoors”, when he met with government officials in 2017.

“We would have preferred very much to sit down and engage with government on the detail,” he added.

A Spokesperson from the Home Affairs has commented that a standard consultation process was followed, which is a process that still is underway, the draft released in 2018 was left open for commentary which inviting several companies. The law is presently under review by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, due to report in April 2020.