Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton is overseeing legislation to compel tech companies to provide access to encrypted data. Picture: FACEBOOK
Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton is overseeing legislation to compel tech companies to provide access to encrypted data. Picture: FACEBOOK

Sydney — Four global tech giants — Facebook, Apple, Alphabet and Amazon — will oppose an Australian law that would require them to provide access to private encrypted data linked to suspected illegal activities, an industry lobby group said on Wednesday.

Australia in August proposed fines of up to A$10m ($7.2m) for institutions and prison terms for individuals who do not comply with a court request to give authorities access to private data.

The government has said the proposed law is needed given a heightened risk of terrorist attacks.

Facebook, Alphabet, Apple and Amazon will jointly lobby lawmakers to amend the bill — seen as a test case as other nations explore similar laws — ahead of a parliamentary vote expected in a few weeks.

“Any kind of attempt by interception agencies, as they are called in the bill, to create tools to weaken encryption is a huge risk to our digital security,” said Lizzie O'Shea, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for a Safe and Secure Internet.

She said the four companies had confirmed their participation in the lobbying effort.

Representatives for the four firms did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton, who is overseeing the legislation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

If the bill becomes law, Australia would be one of the first nations to impose broad access requirements on technology companies, though others are poised to follow.

The so-called Five Eyes nations — the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which share intelligence — said last month they would demand access to encrypted emails, text messages and voice communications through legislation.

Each has repeatedly warned that national security is at risk as authorities are unable to monitor communication among suspects.

Technology companies have strongly opposed efforts to create what they see as a back door to users’ data, a standoff that was propelled into the public arena by Apple’s refusal to unlock an iPhone used by an attacker in a 2015 shooting in California.

Frustrated by the deadlock, many countries are moving ahead with legislation, with New Zealand the latest to tighten oversight over access to online communication.

New Zealand said on Tuesday that customs officers now have the authority to compel visitors to hand over passwords for their electronic devices. Tourists who refuse could face fines of NZ$5,000 ($3,292). 

Reuters

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