The Australian technology industry is “incredulous to fuming mad” after the Government’s controversial encryption bill passed the Senate.
The government says the laws, a world first, are necessary to help combat terrorism and crime.
However, critics have listed wide-ranging concerns, including that the laws could undermine the overall security and privacy of users.
Under the new laws, security agencies have greater powers to get at the encrypted messages of criminal suspects — in some cases, they can demand companies build new capabilities to allow them access.
Labor members called the bill flawed during debate on Thursday, but the Opposition later pulled its amendments at the last minute and voted to support the Government.
The situation has left Australian technology companies struggling to understand the potential impact on their global standing and bottom line.
John Stanton, chief executive of the Communications Alliance, said the bill’s passing was a “magnificent triumph of politics over policy”.
Partner at M8 Ventures Alan Jones argued the bill will have an unintended consequence for the security reputation of Australian businesses — “crippling” attempts to export their technology.
Cyber-security experts have warned the laws could now create a “global weak point” for companies such as Facebook and Apple.
Australia already has laws which require providers to hand over a suspect’s communication to police.
This may already be possible if a service provider uses a form of encryption that allows them to view a user’s message.
But in recent years, services such as WhatsApp, Signal, and others have added an additional layer of security known as end-to-end encryption.
End-to-end encryption allows only the sender and recipient to view a message, preventing it from being unscrambled by the service provider.
Australia and other countries have said that terrorists and criminals exploit this technology to avoid surveillance.
However, critics say the definition of “systemic weakness” is vague, meaning it is unclear how it may be applied.