Wed, Aug 15, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Tech giants to face big fines under new Australian laws

AFP, SYDNEY

Tech companies could face fines of up to A$10 million (US$7.3 million) if they fail to hand over customer information or data to Australian police under tough laws unveiled yesterday.

The Australian government is updating its communications laws to compel local and international providers to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, saying that criminals have been using technology, including encryption, to hide their activities.

The legislation, first canvassed by Canberra last year, would take into account privacy concerns by “expressly” preventing the weakening of encryption or the introduction of so-called back doors, Australian Minister for Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity Angus Taylor said.

Over the past year, about 200 operations involving serious criminal and terrorism-related investigations were negatively affected by current laws, Taylor said.

“We know that more than 90 percent of data lawfully intercepted by the Australian Federal Police now uses some form of encryption,” he said in a statement. “We must ensure our laws reflect the rapid take-up of secure online communications by those who seek to do us harm.”

The news laws have been developed in consultation with the tech and communications industries, Taylor said, adding that the government did not want to “break the encryption systems” of companies.

“[Law enforcement] agencies are convinced we can get the balance right here,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“We are only asking them to do what they are capable of doing. We are not asking them to create vulnerabilities in their systems that will reduce the security, because we know we need high levels of security in our communications,” he added.

The type of help that could be requested by Canberra would include asking a provider to remove electronic protections, concealing covert operations by government agencies and helping with access to devices or services.

If companies do not comply with the requests, they would face fines of up to A$10 million, while individuals could be hit with penalties of up to A$50,000.

The requests can be challenged in court.

The draft legislation expands the obligations to assist investigators from domestic telecom businesses to encompass foreign companies, including any communications providers operating in Australia.

This could cover social media giants such as Facebook Inc, WhatsApp and gaming platforms with chat facilities.

The Digital Industry Group, which represents tech firms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter Inc and Oath Inc in Australia, said the providers were already working with police to respond to requests within existing laws and their terms of service.

Group managing director Nicole Buskiewicz called for “constructive dialogue” with Canberra over the adoption of surveillance laws that respect privacy and freedom of expression.

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