Here we go again: PJCIS opens review of Australia's encryption laws

The Joint Committee will follow its rushed inspection of Australia's encryption laws with a rushed review of the amendments made on Parliament's last day of 2018.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has begun accepting submissions for its review of Australia's newly-minted encryption laws.

The review is tied to the amendments carried on the last day of Parliament for 2018, when Labor utterly capitulated, removed its own amendments, and allowed the law to pass through the Senate unamended. The government successfully had its 67 pages of amendments added to the Bill in the lower house.

"The Committee reached bipartisan agreement in its report on the Assistance and Access Bill," PJCIS chair Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, and Deputy chair Labor's Anthony Byrne said in a statement.

"This review will focus on the final act as passed by the Parliament on 6 December 2018, with specific reference to government amendments -- including those made to effect the committee's bipartisan recommendations -- made on that date."

See: Australia's encryption laws will fall foul of differing definitions

The committee must report back by April 3, 2019, and added that its upcoming review of Australia's data retention laws will also include looking at the encryption laws, and is set to begin in April, and be completed by April 2020.

Last week, Signal said its application's design and open sourcing made it impossible to backdoor the messaging app.

"The end-to-end encrypted contents of every message and voice/video call are protected by keys that are entirely inaccessible to us," said Signal developer Joshua Lund said.

"Everything we do is open source and anyone is free to verify or examine the code for each release."

Speaking last Wednesday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed that the government will not accept all of Labor's amendments to its encryption Bill.

Labor passed the bill on the proviso that its amendments would be passed in the new year.

"I wasn't prepared to walk away from my job and leave matters in a stand off and expose Australians to increased risk in terms of national security," Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said at the time.

"Once the government ran away from the Parliament, at that point I thought we need to get to a sensible conclusion."

However, Dutton said the government would only accept amendments that are consistent with the recommendations of the PJCIS.

"Labor can try and water it down through whatever means they like -- [Shadow Attorney-General] Mark Dreyfus tried all sorts of games to prevent it from coming on in the Parliament -- and ultimately, Labor got caught out," he told reporters.

"This is a very important Bill, a very important law. I hope that Labor can get over their attempts to block it."

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