In January 2016 Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), along with the Australian Privacy Foundation, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, BluePrint for Free Speech and FutureWise wrote to Prime Minister Turnbull asking for his support for strong encryption and for his commitment to reject any law, policy or mandate that would undermine digital security.
The response received from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on behalf of the Prime Minister, stated that:
The Australian Government supports lawful use of modern and secure communications technologies. These technologies are critical to a modern economy that depends on trusted digital connections for businesses, individuals and governments to thrive online…The Government remains committed to working with Australian and international partners to promote an open, free and secure cyberspace. This includes the use of encryption technologies to protect personal and sensitive information and help ensure fundamental freedoms of expression and association.
EFA warmly welcomes this expression of support for encryption and other privacy technologies and for the principle of a free, open and secure Internet.
However, EFA remains concerned that there are several countries who are actively pursuing legislation that would require companies to provide exceptional access to encrypted materials.
Recent examples include:
- the attempt by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation to force Apple to disable security functions on a particular model of iPhone;
- the arrest of a Facebook executive due to non-compliance with a Brazilian court order requiring access to encrypted messages sent using their subsidiary, WhatsApp (Facebook maintains that the manner in which WhatsApp messages are encrypted prevents them from being able to decrypt such messages); and,
- just this week, a bill has been introduced into the Russian parliament that would require all messaging providers to provide access to encrypted messages to the country’s internal intelligence agency, the FSB.
Safety and privacy depend on secure communications tools and technologies. As the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet acknowledges in their letter, these technologies are critical to a modern economy that depends on trusted digital connections for businesses, individuals and governments to thrive online.
The creation of encryption ‘backdoors’ represents a fundamental threat to the safety and privacy of all users of digital technologies. The risk that any such ‘backdoors’ will become available to unfriendly governments, organised criminal syndicates and other malicious actors is extremely high.
EFA therefore believes that any moves to undermine encryption in the name of ‘national security’ are fundamentally misguided and in fact represent serious threats to national security in their own right, as well as threatening human rights and the enormous economic and social benefits that the digital revolution has brought for people across the globe.
EFA has received commitments from a number of Australian political parties to protect strong encryption and privacy technologies and to resist any attempts to undermine these critical enablers of the digital economy (see the various responses to our Election Policy Questionnaire).
EFA therefore calls on the two major parties – Liberal and Labor – should they form the next Australian government:
- to endorse the support of strong encryption and privacy technologies articulated in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s letter;
- to commit not to attempt to undermine these critical technologies; and,
- to show global leadership on this issue.