Labor commits to encryption reform

James Riley
Editorial Director

Federal Labor would work with industry to fix controversial encryption legislation and pass the baseline recommendations of the Parliament’s joint committee on intelligence and security if it elected to government, Opposition digital economy spokesman Ed Husic says.

With efforts to pass amendments to the Assistance and Access laws stymied in the Senate yesterday, and with further debate on several Labor amendments now put off until early April in the budget sitting – the likely final sitting days of the current Parliament – Mr Husic committed Labor amending the legislation.

Ed Husic: Committed to reforming the controversial encryption laws if Labor wins government

Specifically, Mr Husic says a better balance must be found between the needs of security services to confront ‘bad actors’ and the needs of the digital economy which relies on trusted, secure communications.

Speaking in the Federation Chamber on Thursday said the government had “botched” the framing of the laws, and had not listened to the leading voices of the sector warning about the downside impact on Australian tech companies selling overseas.

“In the debate around encryption last year there was a recognition that we need to allow security agencies to have a degree of power to tackle those bad actors that want to harm people,” Mr Husic told the Parliament.

“But, in doing so, we need to frame and use laws that will not actually, through overreach, undermine the very things that we rely upon.”

Encryption, as much as it has been framed in national security terms, is also about economic security, because it is a platform that allows businesses to build [trusted communications],” he said.

“Knowing that data can be provided between players in an environment where you trust that data is crucial.”

“Yet the laws that this government put forward on encryption have been truly badly framed, ignoring the advice of so many people and trashing the reputation of those in the know,” he said.

Mr Husic said in the past week Atlassian’s Scott Farquhar, WiseTech’s Richard White and 99Design’s Patrick Llewellyn had each publicly spoken out about the negative impact of the laws and the need for dramatic change.

“All these people are saying this will have a terrible impact on Australia’s tech industry because it’s making people in other parts of the world doubt whether they can rely upon Australian tech. It is terrible. This law has to be changed,” he said.

“We need to make sure we have proper judicial oversight in there. We need to make sure that elements of this bill, where it allows individual employees to be approached and compelled to assist, and not tell people what they’re doing and mess with a sensitive encryption system that undermines the basis of trust, are looked at.

“The recommendations of the parliamentary oversight committee that have been completely ignored by this government need to be dealt with.”

“These laws must change. We have to get the balance right between national security and economic security.”

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