The entire world can now read your private messages

Australia’s recently passed ‘Assistance and Access bill 2018’ allows the Australian government to compel a company to decrypt your private messages if they are stored on a computer in Australia. If the company is providing an encrypted messaging service (such as Apple’s iMessage) that they are unable to decrypt, then the Australian government can compel them to insert a backdoor allowing them access to your private messages.

What could possibly go wrong with that?

13 countries have the death penalty for atheism. 10 countries have the death penalty for homosexuality. The Assistance and Access bill section 15CC “Requests by foreign countries for assistance in relation to data held in computers” is relevant here:

The Attorney-General may… authorise an eligible law enforcement officer, in writing, to apply for a computer access warrant… if the Attorney-General is satisfied that:
(a) an investigation, or investigative proceeding, relating to a criminal matter involving an offence against the law of a foreign country… that is punishable by a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 3 years or more, imprisonment for life or the death penalty has commenced in the requesting country; and
(b) the requesting country requests the Attorney-General to arrange for access to data held in a computer

So if you are accused of a crime in any country, and you have any private communications stored on a computer in Australia, that country can request the Australian government decrypt and hand over your private messages. The only stipulations are that the information be used only for the purposes of the stated investigation, and that the information be deleted afterwards. There is no explanation of how these stipulations would be checked or enforced.

If you’re not Australian and don’t communicate with anyone in Australia you might feel this doesn’t apply to you for now. However once governments realize they can read anyone’s private messages so long as these messages are on an Australian computer they are likely to start encouraging Australian data-centers to store a lot more international traffic, and other countries will not doubt attempt to introduce similar legislation.

Just to be clear — if you visit, or are just traveling through through Saudi Arabia, or Malaysia or any of the other countries listed below and someone simply accuses you of being an atheist, you can be arrested and your entire private message history can be accessed and used as evidence against you and you can be sentenced to death.

List of countries with the death penalty for atheism.

• Afghanistan
• Iran
• Malaysia
• Maldives
• Mauritania
• Nigeria
• Pakistan
• Qatar
• Saudi Arabia
• Somalia
• Sudan
• United Arab Emirates
• Yemen

One would hope that the Australian market is sufficiently small, and the onus of adding a decryption backdoor is sufficiently great that tech companies affected by this bill will simply withdraw their services from Australia.

So how did this bill get passed? Surely it’s obviously flawed and no-one in their right mind would back it? Well the Liberal party proposed the bill and the ‘opposition’ Labor party backed it. Many Labor voters are disappointed by this support, however they should not be surprised by it. Labor’s communications minister, Stephen Conroy was an avid proponent of internet censorship and many websites are now banned in Australia thanks to his continued efforts.

If you are Australian and you care about fair use of technology and the internet or retaining your right to privacy then you should vote for the Pirate Party or The Greens. Complaining about the idiotic behavior of the major parties is not sufficient, you have to vote against them if you want the law to change.