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Security

Australia will force tech companies to help cops view encrypted data

The country's cyber security chief insists it won't involve a back door to bypass encryption.

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Australia won't force tech companies to include built-in back doors to bypass encryption, its cyber security minister insists.

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Australia will reveal in the coming weeks new laws that will force tech companies to help police access the encrypted data of suspected criminals, but is ambiguous on how those powers will work.

Angus Taylor, the country's cyber security minister, wouldn't directly answer Australia's ABC News' repeated question on whether surveillance codes would be dropped into mobile devices.

"It includes whatever techniques are relevant, and that's how the current system works," he said. "It's not appropriate to have a world where we can do this for analogue data, analogue communication, but we can't do it in the digital world."

However, he insisted that it won't involve a built-in back door to bypass encryption.

"There's been ideas around for decades that you should create some kind of key that law enforcement can get access to, to access any data at any time -- that's not what we're proposing here," Taylor told ABC.

The laws will apply to Australian telecommunications companies like Telstra and Optus, in addition to international tech companies like Facebook, Apple and Google. They will face major fines if they fail to comply.

According to Taylor, the legislation is an attempt to "modernise" existing laws.

"Those laws were developed during an analogue era decades ago and they are now out of date," explained Taylor. "Much data and information is transferred through messaging apps and it's digital not analogue. There've been very substantial changes in the technology and we need to update the powers."

Draft legislation will be presented in the coming weeks, followed by a period of public consultation.

Last year, the country's then-attorney-general, George Brandis, said Australia wanted to cooperate with service providers to "ensure reasonable assistance is provided to law enforcement and security agencies."

In May, US lawmakers introduced a bill that would stop the government from forcing companies to create back doors for law enforcement. 

In Australia, more often that not, tech companies approve requests from law enforcement for device access. The Guardian reports that 87% of the 2601 requests made to security conscious Apple were approved in the tail end of 2017. 

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Labour wanted more information on the legislation.

"[W]here we've seen measures that go too far, or have been rushed, or haven't been sufficiently well thought out, we've been prepared to make amendments, to make suggestions," Mr Shorten said.

"It's that constructive approach which we intend to keep taking."

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