Australia passes law forcing tech firms to hand over encrypted data

A controversial bill allowing spies and police to snoop on the encrypted communications of suspected terrorists and criminals was passed in Australia on Thursday, as tech giants warned of wide-ranging implications for global cybersecurity.

According to Reuters, the bill should affect Apple, Google, Facebook, Snapchat and any other technology company that is based in Australia and encrypts Australian users' communications.

Shortly after, Mr Albanese's colleagues in the Senate agreed to drop their amendments and pass the bill. Even though maximum fines are limited to about US$7 million (NZ$10 million), individuals who fail to comply with the bill may face arrest and prison sentences, according to the draft that is due to take effect. They expect the government to amend the law in February, however.

The bill, passed by the lower house of parliament earlier on Thursday, was to be debated in the upper Senate, where Labour said it meant to suggest new amendments, before going back to the lower house.

When the Federal Bureau of Investigation asked Apple in 2015 to unlock the phone of one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack, Apple declined, citing the threat of such a back door.

Australia is the first member of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing pact-others include the USA, U.K., Canada and New Zealand-to pass a bill of this kind.

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The Five Eyes intelligence network, made up of the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, have each repeatedly warned national security was at risk because authorities were unable to monitor the communications of suspects. The encryption backdoor bill guarantees it will stay that way - every Australian-manufactured IT product must henceforth be regarded with suspicion that any features using encryption will be hopelessly compromised, with a backdoor back to Australian intelligence agencies.

The Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI), whose members include Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon and Twitter, said in a statement that the Australian legislation was "out of step" with other countries that had strong national security concerns.

Earlier today Australia's House of Representatives passed the Assistance and Access Bill, which is also known as the Anti-Encryption Bill.

"Several critical issues remain unaddressed in this legislation, most significantly the prospect of introducing systemic weaknesses that could put Australians' data security at risk". If secure servers and end-to-end encryption are on your email wish list, we have you covered.

However, critics have panned the laws as being short-sighted and missing the point of encryption. They are also concerned about how the law's secrecy provisions will impact their business models and consumer privacy.

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