One of Australia’s leading civil liberties experts has slammed security laws passed in Canberra allowing the government to snoop on people’s private messages.
The unprecedented laws will bring an end to encrypted messages used in apps such as WhatsApp, which has around six million active Australian users every month.
Labor initially condemned the legislation as ‘confusing’ before backing down, and the President of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties Terry O’Gorman has argued Australians’ privacy will suffer as a result of the law’s passing.
Australia has passed unprecedented laws to scrap end-to-end WhatsApp encryption (stock image)
He told Daily Mail Australia: ‘It would be like phoning the police to tap a hospital’s entire switchboard when they are simply after one doctor.
‘By targeting a particular individual in relation to encryption – they are jeopardising everyone.’
He also criticised Labor’s decision to eventually support the law change.
He said: ‘It just shows Labor has given in to the law and order witch hunt politics in relation to terrorism – and all of our civil liberties have suffered as a result.’
But the President of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties Terry O’Gorman (pictured) has argued Australian’s civil liberties will suffer as a result of the law’s passing
The opposition gave in over fears of terrorism threats to Australia over the Christmas period.
The highly-regarded lawyer said the laws set a dangerous precedent for future legislation.
Mr O’Gorman added: ‘It’s a slippery slope – (John) Howard said back in 2001 the legislation was just for encryption but since then they have leached into mainstream criminal law.’
The civil liberties advocate’s warning comes as Australian Information Security Association chairman Damien Manuel said the new laws couldn’t even be implemented by Christmas.
He said: ‘It’s a ludicrous law. It’s going to drive foreign workers from coming to Australia to work in the cyber security industry.
‘It’s also not implementable by Christmas. A lot of the companies affected by this law are international organisations – they wont change their systems just to cater for Australia.’
Australian Information Security Association chairman Damien Manuel said the new encryption laws couldn’t even be implemented by Christmas, despite the laws being put in place to counter the terror threat during the holiday period (stock image of end-to-end notification on WhatsApp)
WhatsApp has up until this point been secured with end-to-end encryption meaning the app and third parties could not read or listen to the content.
Backers of the bill claim terrorists have been taking advantage of this to communicate privately.
Australia has become the first country in the world to ditch the messaging app’s encryption.
The new spying powers are limited to only ‘serious offences’ such as preventing terrorism and tackling organised crime in Australia, according to Attorney-General Christian Porter.
Australia’s national security was at the forefront of the debate, with Mr Porter telling the lower house the new laws are necessary to prevent terror events.
Mr Porter also said police and national security agencies will still require a warrant to access the encrypted messages.
After initially rejecting the proposed laws, Labor gave in over fears of terrorism threats to Australia over the Christmas period
Under the new powers, companies will be required to build a new function to help police access the suspects’ data, or risk a fine for not doing so.
They could be asked to install software or a modifying service on the suspects’ device, and provide technical information such as the source code.
The suspect would not even know if they’re being spied on because the company cannot tell anyone.
Who is allowed to spy on you?
- Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation
- Australian Secret Intelligence Service
- Australian Signals Directorate
- Australian Federal Police
- Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity
- Australian Crime Commission
- State Police
The powers will extend beyond terrorism, to state and territory police forces who cover a broad range of serious offenses.
Labor condemned the 200-page bill as being too broad and confusing.
‘What does that mean? No ordinary person can understand it, and no lawyer can understand it,’ shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said.
The laws were the subject of fiery debate in Parliament earlier in the week, with Energy Minister Angus Taylor accusing Labor of ‘running a protection racket for terrorists’ by refusing to rush through the laws.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted on Thursday the move was in the best interest of Australia’s national security and denied he was playing political games to distract from a different vote of removing asylum-seeking children from Nauru.
‘Let the scale fall from your eyes. This is not about politics, this is about Australia’s national security,’ he told reporters.
WhatsApp is used in an estimated 95 per cent of serious criminal activity.
A spokesman from the Australian Security Information Association (AISA) said they are ‘deeply disappointed’ with the proposed legislation.
In a statement, the AISA board said: ‘The AISA Board is deeply disappointed and remains concerned that the additional safeguards proposed by Labor do little to address the fundamental flaws in the proposed legislation, which represents a direct threat to Australia’s national security on a number of levels.’
The AISA claims the legislation would ‘destroy global trust in the Australian technology sector, and create new avenues for cyber criminals and state sponsored actors to attack Australian businesses and critical infrastructure.’
‘What does that mean? No ordinary person can understand it, and no lawyer can understand it,’ shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said