The laws of Australia will trump the laws of mathematics: Turnbull

Despite calling the laws of mathematics 'commendable', the prime minister of Australia told ZDNet the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia when it comes to legislating decryption.

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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis with Acting AFP Commissioner Michael Phelan at the AFP Digital Forensics Lab in Sydney

Image: Asha McLean/ZDNet

Regardless of what the laws of mathematics state around breaking into end-to-end encryption, the Australian government is determined to bring in laws that go against them, with the Prime Minister of Australia telling ZDNet that the laws produced in Canberra are able to trump the laws of mathematics

"The laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that," he said on Friday. "The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia."

On Friday, the government unveiled plans to introduce legislation this year that would force internet companies to assist law enforcement in decrypting messages sent with end-to-end encryption.

The package will also contain authority for the Australian Federal Police to "remotely monitor computer networks and devices", a power currently possessed by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and force handset makers to help authorities break into devices they sell.

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As governments become more attuned to the threats posed in the IT space, the first reaction is to reflexively clamp down on them.

"We intend to work with the companies in order to address what is potentially the greatest degradation of intelligence and law enforcement capability that we have seen in our lifetimes," Attorney-General George Brandis said on Friday.

"In the spring sittings of Parliament, the government will be bringing forward legislation which will ... impose an obligation upon device manufacturers and upon service providers to provide appropriate assistance to intelligence and law enforcement on a warranted basis where it is necessary to interdict or in the case of a crime that may have been committed."

The Prime Minister said the legislation will be modelled on the UK snoopers' charter, and allow authorities to obtain a warrant to compel companies to help them.

"I'm not a cryptographer, but what we are seeking to do is to secure their assistance," Turnbull said. "They have to face up to their responsibility. They can't just, you know, wash their hands of it and say it's got nothing to do with them."

"I am sure they know morally they should. Morally they should."

In recent weeks, as Australia has ramped up its rhetoric around encryption, Turnbull has repeatedly stated the country is not interested in backdoors.

Under questioning from journalists, Turnbull gave his definition of a backdoor.

"A back door is typically a flaw in a software program that perhaps the -- you know, the developer of the software program is not aware of and that somebody who knows about it can exploit," he said. "And, you know, if there are flaws in software programs, obviously, that's why you get updates on your phone and your computer all the time."

"So we're not talking about that. We're talking about lawful access."

Speaking earlier on Friday morning, Brandis said he has been informed by the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) intelligence agency that the government's plan to bust encrypted messages is possible.

"Last Wednesday, I met with the chief cryptographer at GCHQ ... and he assured me this was feasible," he said.

"What the government is proposing to do is to impose upon the companies an obligation conditioned by reasonableness and proportionality."

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