Australian citizens are on the verge of losing their online privacy because of a new proposed law from their government. At the beginning of August, a new measure that requires access to private encrypted data form companies was introduced and is currently passing through the Australian parliament. This means that if the police suspect illegal activities, they will be given access to this private data. For a long time now, the government has been trying to impose these privacy laws on their citizens.

The measure targets technology firms, including Google and Facebook, and will compel them to provide a backdoor to their encrypted data, something that clearly endangers the online safety of their users.

Despite the government’s intentions to fight illegal activities, including drug trafficking or pedophilia, the proposed measure will create chaos in terms of online security.

A Small Background on Australia’s Anti-Privacy Laws

In 2015, Australia introduced a new data retention law, the base of which was to “legally collect private information about you”. This included the websites you visited, every email you sent, to whom and when, whether you illegally download something or not, etc. But the government did not stop here.

For more than two years now, ever since April 2016, the federal government has insisted that encryptions cause problems for their law enforcement. Ever since they have been searching for ways to breach this issue and break into encrypted communication. One of the loudest people on this topic was former politician and diplomat, George Brandis. He introduced this idea to the Australian government, which remained active even after his resignation. One year later, in 2017, there was a proposal to create a way to access end-to-end encrypted apps for communication. This means every app from Messenger, to WhatsApp and Viber. However, a backdoor was not mentioned. In February 2018, the Australian Minister of Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, brought up the subject once again. According to him, it was necessary to change the legislation in a way that it ensures easier access to encrypted data for their law enforcement.

If we fast forward a few months, the situation has evolved and now, Turnbull’s government is one step ahead in challenging tech giants with the new “Assistance and Access Bill 2018”.

Assistance and Access Bill 2018

According to the authorities, encryption impacts 9 out of 10 cases under the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. Moreover, they claim that by 2020, all of the communication happening between terrorists will become encrypted. This information has been listed in the draft bill. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the document is still a matter of concern.

The most worrying thing about the bill is the fact that the government claims they will not create a “backdoor”. The legislation specifically forbids using measures that will compromise and weaken the security of a specific network. However, end-to-end encryption can only be intercepted this way, by enacting a vulnerability to the system. Therefore, the idea that tech firms will give the government access to this information without compromising the entire encryption is currently impossible.

Considering this, it’s still unclear how the new legislation is going to be enforced upon these tech companies and communication tools. One thing is for sure, if the institutions refuse to provide the requested private data to the authorities, fines up to A$10 million will be implemented.

Why Is the New Proposed Law Dangerous?

Compromising and weakening the whole system in order to fight crime, will only open up new problems.

In this Internet era, online privacy and security are of the utmost importance. This new proposed bill has raised many concerns, especially among tech experts. Many of them agree that this move can jeopardize the privacy of all users, including everyday netizens, and companies that run online businesses. People should be allowed encryption because this keeps them protected from cyber-attacks. Denying them this right could lead to a flood of cybercrimes, including identity theft. It could be devastating both for companies and their customers.

As the fear for their privacy rises among Australians, the purchase of VPNs grows proportionally. In 2015, when the mandatory data retention law was passed by the parliament, the percentage of VPN users in Australia grew by 200 percent. For them, it’s the only way to stay protected, especially after the latest move from their government.

Unfortunately, if the parliament passes the bill, the law will no longer protect the rights of normally law-abiding citizens. Now, new concerns are arising. Will their next step be the controversial move to ban VPN providers as well? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.