Australian law enforcement and national security agencies may soon be handed the unprecedented right to access encrypted communications, after the government unveiled draft legislation.

The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 will address some of the security threats presented in a digital world.

“We know that more than 90% of data lawfully intercepted by the Australian Federal Police now uses some form of encryption," said Minister for law enforcement and cyber security, Angus Taylor.

"This has directly impacted around 200 serious criminal and terrorism-related investigations in the last 12 months alone.

“Our first priority is keeping Australians safe and these measures will go a long way to ensure that criminals cannot hide.”

The legislation refers to ‘designated communications providers’ as the organisations that must hand over information and cooperate with authorities under the proposed laws.

It provides a list of acts or things that can be asked of these communications providers, including removing one or more forms of electronic protection, providing technical information, and assisting with access to devices or services.

However, Taylor made clear that these new laws do not give the government the authority to introduce ‘backdoors’ to access these systems.

"These reforms will allow law enforcement and interception agencies to access specific communications without compromising the security of a network. The measures expressly prevent the weakening of encryption or the introduction of so-called backdoors.”

The draft legislation also states that such obligations, which are currently in place for domestic telecommunications providers, will be extended to foreign providers and ISPs operating in Australia.

Plans to announce the legislation were first signaled in 2015, when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the government was looking at ways “to address the challenge of monitoring terrorist groups in this new environment”.

More recently, Minister Taylor has said that Australia’s access laws would be the “most comprehensive” legislation to date.

Despite the fact this legislation has been a long time coming, there has still been concern over the impact that such measures will place on the overall security of these systems.

“This new legislation, the likes of which we have been expecting for some time, is a direct response to people wanting to keep their personal and private data safe and it is a massive over-reach by this government,” said Australian Greens Digital Rights spokesperson, Senator Jordon Steele-John.

“Regardless of what Minister Taylor claims, installing software or legislating some other means to capture data as it is unencrypted on the receiving device undermines the very principle of end-to-end-encryption.”

In his column earlier this, ACS President Yohan Ramasundara shared similar concerns.

“While it’s clear something needs to change, these solutions and any others that try to bypass device security all have one fundamental flaw: they add a weak link to the security chain,” he said.

“A backdoor for the good guys is a backdoor for the bad guys too, without exception.”

The government is welcoming feedback on the draft legislation up until 10 September.

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