Reveal your password or face jail

Are you happy to hand authorities the password to your smartphone or laptop on request?

Under a proposed new law, you could be fined $50,000 and face up to five years’ imprisonment if you don’t.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton argues that the new law is needed to help police identify criminals hiding behind encryption technology. But civil libertarians say the changes go too far too soon, the Daily Mail is reporting.

“The bill is a draconian measure to grant law enforcement authorities unacceptable surveillance powers that invade Australians’ civil rights,” Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm told the Daily Mail.

“It appears that people who are not even suspected of committing a crime can face a fine of up to $50,000 and up to five years’ imprisonment for declining to provide a password to their smartphone, computer or other electronic devices.”

The legislation would require service providers to cooperate with law enforcement investigations, in some cases by building new tools to allow user security to be bypassed. And other countries could request Australian police to access data on your computer to help them in criminal investigations.

The bill would also impose additional obligations on domestic and foreign companies that supply services to Australia.

More than 14,000 submissions about the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 had been received from concerned citizens and organisations, including Digital Rights Watch, the Human Rights Law Centre, Amnesty International and Access Now.

NSW’s Council of Civil Liberties is one group concerned the bill gives authorities too much power. Vice-president Lesley Lynch  said: “This is another extension of powers that go well beyond what is reasonable and necessary in a democracy.”

The Daily Mail reports that a software developer had his password-protected laptop and phone seized by Australian Border Force officers this year at Sydney Airport and did not know whether any files had been copied. He feared such actions could compromise his business.

Law Enforcement and Cyber Security Minister Angus Taylor says the Government does not want to undermine encryption, but require companies to take “reasonable steps” to assist law enforcement.

Do you think the proposed legislation goes too far? Are you happy to divulge your passwords to the authorities?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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