Labor not distancing itself from Turnbull's war on maths

While Labor Leader Bill Shorten concedes it's not technologically easy to do a lot of the things the government has proposed, when it comes to fighting terrorism, the opposition is far from disagreeing with the ruling coalition.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has responded to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's impending plans to introduce legislation that would force internet companies to assist law enforcement in decrypting messages, saying that when it comes to fighting terrorism, "we are in this together".

"With terrorism a 21st Century conflict, we need 21st Century weapons to deal with it," Shorten said on Sky News on Friday.

"The big tech giants have a position of privilege in our society, so it is appropriate that they contribute to the safety and well-being of Australian society."

Although the specifics of the proposed laws are yet to be detailed, Australia's Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security Alastair MacGibbon has said the legislation would not require tech giants such as Apple to create weaknesses in their software so the government can access encrypted information, rather the government would seek moral-based cooperation to help law enforcement.

"This is definitely not telling companies they have to create a weakness in their software," MacGibbon told the ABC. "[It's] not asking the company to do anything wrong, [it's] asking the company to apply its same engineering and software smarts that are building the device to help police protect the public."

Although MacGibbon said he, alongside Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, is a strong supporter of encryption, he added that there needs to be a balance against the lawful right for police agencies who need to investigate.

"What [law enforcement is] asking is to have cooperation from an industry that is so vital to us now in everything we do in life and we want people to be secure, we want encryption, we want people to have patched devices," MacGibbon added.

"But at the same time, it is really only once in a while police and security agencies will need to gain access to a person's data, a person's conversation, and that's what our whole civil society is based on offline and there is absolutely no reason why that same rule of law can't apply equally as messily, equally potentially in a failed way in the online world as we say offline."

Turnbull is of the opinion that regardless of what the laws of mathematics state around breaking into end-to-end encryption, he is determined to bring in laws that go against them.

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

MacGibbon is expecting a "robust and rational" debate surrounding the potential legislation with tech companies that operate in Australia.

"No one is suggesting that you build vulnerabilities into these systems, what we are saying is that industry should cooperate," he reiterated, noting there is nothing "outrageous" about what is being proposed.

The package proposed by the government 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.

"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."

Turnbull 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."

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