Australia’s Encryption Laws 'Rushed' With Little Consultation From Tech Companies

The ABC has obtained documents through a freedom of information request naming the companies that were involved in the federal government’s consultation before implementing unprecedented encryption laws.

It has come to light that only a handful of companies were invited to take part in the consultation process, which experts say could create a crisis for domestic technology companies.

“Among other things, the laws give authorities power to compel a company to create a new technical way to access encrypted communications - a text message sent in the WhatsApp messaging service, for example,” Ariel Bogle writes.

The encryption laws represent a first not just for Australia, but for the globe.

Francis Galbally, chairman of Australian encryption provider Senetas has aired his concerns the law will have on the reputation of technology companies.

“The bill, should it become law, will profoundly undermine the reputations of Australian software developers and hardware manufacturers in international markets,” he said.

Sunita Bose is the managing director of the Digital Industry Group, a collective that represents Twitter, Google, Facebook and Microsoft, said that while the consultation was welcomed, the process took place extremely fast.

“We did raise concerns at the time that the Bill appeared to be fast-tracked through Parliament, ignoring the voices of a wide range of organisations who directly raised concerns,” Bose said.

Alex McCauley, Chief executive of the national start-ups group, StartupAus added that his industry should have been among the group that was consulted by the government. He said that the information obtained by the ABC is “not a list of companies that includes any Australian tech businesses, which is obviously problematic.”

“[The laws make] it really difficult for Australian companies selling overseas to say with confidence that they have a secure system,” he told the ABC.

This sentiment was echoed by the chief executive of the Australian Information Industry Association, Ron Gauci, who said it was “disappointing” his organisation wasn’t able to take part in the consultation process.

“Had we been involved in the process in the first place… hopefully we would have avoided some of the matters that still remain as issues for us,” he said.

“Our major issue has always been the impact this legislation may have on those Australian organisations, particularly the smaller ones, and their competitiveness of a global scale.”

A spokesperson for Peter Dutton’s Home Affairs department told the ABC that the department discussed the laws with a number of telecommunications, technology and social media entities, and the process was ongoing.

“The laws do not create a standing obligation or compliance burden for the Australian technology sector,” the spokesperson said.

John Stanton, chief executive of the Communications Alliance told the ABC that following the consultations, “the basic message” was that technology companies “would not create backdoors,” however he did add that the Alliance “would have preferred very much to sit down and engage with government on the detail.”

Lizzie O’Shea, board member of Digital Rights Watch was quick to mention that civil society groups weren’t able to take part in the consultation process.

“I’ve seen this happen time and again… whereby there’s a very significant piece of legislation or law reform that relates to technology, and the consultation process is substandard,” she said.

Digital Rights Watch is lobbying for the law to be repealed.

“Industries are not opposed to national security objectives, only to the mechanisms by which they seek to achieve them, if those are damaging to industry or the public,” Mr Stanton said.

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