Subjects: Encryption Bill
Australian law enforcement agencies will soon be able to access anyone's WhatsApp or iMessage conversations after the government and Labor agreed to tough new anti-terror laws. WhatsApp and iMessage encrypt their text so only the sender and the recipient can currently read them.
Now, it's feared extremists use the apps to organise terror activities. Authorities have been pushing for the new laws but major technology companies had campaigned against law enforcement being able to snoop on the encrypted conversations and the Attorney-General Christian Porter joins us now from Canberra. Attorney-General good morning, welcome.
There are some commentators this morning saying these measures are too draconian and have been pushed through too fast. What do you say to that?
Look, Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister made these measures an absolute priority for this sitting of Parliament. It's very simple. Without these measures it is incredibly difficult to keep Australians safe from terrorists and organised criminals. I'll just quickly explain to your viewers why: when I first started as a Crown prosecutor in 2002, if the police went to a judge in a court and got a warrant over someone's mobile phone that really meant something and it was important to law enforcement because you could listen to the conversations between two serious criminals or two terrorists. Now those criminals or terrorists are communicating by encrypted apps like WhatsApp and the warrants can't be effective in those sort of circumstances. You always need a warrant but all this legislation does is a request - and if they decline - require - the tech companies to assist us in making good on the warrant. But if we cannot get into the conversations of terrorists plotting to do Australians harm, we can't keep Australians safe.
Okay, the major tech companies say this is unprecedented in a western democracy; it's a serious breach of privacy. So what do you say to the average person, the average family with the family WhatsApp trying to tell a family member they're running late, will their messages be read by our spies?
No, of course not. I mean you would need to be planning a very serious criminal offense such as a terrorist event or a homicide. Then we would need to get a warrant which would have to be issued by a court or for ASIO by me the Attorney-General. So this is used incredibly selectively and only against the most serious targets who mean to do great harm to Australians. And with respect to what the tech companies say, it may be some modest inconvenience to them but the United Kingdom have had laws very similar to this, in fact perhaps even stronger than this, in the United Kingdom for some time now. The reality is that we've always had the ability with a very, very dangerous people pursuant to a warrant to listen to their conversations. The thing is that they don't talk to each other anymore. They communicate by encrypted apps and if that goes dark which is what's happened, then Australians' safety is at risk and we can't let that happen.
Okay. Attorney-General, thank you for your time today.
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