South Australia Police to be able to compel passwords and biometrics from suspects

Suspects who fail to hand over passwords, fingerprints, or other biometrics to access devices will face five years in the slammer.

South Australia Police is set for a boost to its powers under proposed laws introduced on Thursday in Adelaide, which would enable police officers to compel passwords and biometrics from suspects.

The proposed laws would apply in cases of indictable offences or where a maximum penalty of over two years applies, following court approval.

"Our laws need to keep pace with technology, which is why there are now specific provisions that will allow investigators to seek approval from the Magistrates Court to compel people to provide information to access encrypted material," South Australian Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said.

"That can include the provision of passwords, fingerprints, facial scans, or retinal scans -- whatever enables authorities to access a device that may contain evidence of a serious offence.

"Anyone who fails to comply with the order could face up to five years imprisonment."

Chapman decried the former Labor government for failing to introduce such laws in the previous Parliament.

At the same time, new penalties are set to be introduced for providing information that would help a person avoid apprehension for an offence involving child exploitation material.

"These laws ensure that people who administer or host websites that deal with this sickening material -- even if they are not technically in possession of it -- can be prosecuted," Chapman said.

In the federal Parliament, the proposed Assistance and Access Bill is currently sitting before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

Under the proposed law, Australian government agencies would be able to issue three kinds of notices:

  • Technical Assistance Notices (TAN), which are compulsory notices for a communication provider to use an interception capability they already have;
  • Technical Capability Notices (TCN), which are compulsory notices for a communication provider to build a new interception capability, so that it can meet subsequent Technical Assistance Notices; and
  • Technical Assistance Requests (TAR), which have been described by experts as the most dangerous of all.

In a submission made public yesterday, Australian security vendor Senetas said the Bill would damage Australian reputations and trust.

"The Bill will damage Australian developers' and manufacturers' reputations in international markets, resulting in loss of trust and confidence in Australian cybersecurity R&D and products," the company said.

"Rather than protecting the interests of citizens, this Bill compromises their security and privacy as a consequence of weaker cybersecurity practices and easier access to new tools for cyber criminals."

The security company said that since the Bill specifies that organisations cannot confirm the existence of a capability created for interception agencies, Australian companies could not be trusted.

"If the customer suspects that they might have been targeted, the legislation also requires that the company must deny it -- regardless of the truth," it said "Any guarantee of security from an Australian technology company is therefore meaningless."

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