Subjects: Encryption Bill
World first encryption laws giving security agencies access to messaging apps are likely to pass Parliament by the end of the week after the Coalition and Labor struck a deal. Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter joins us now for the very latest from Canberra. Attorney General, how important is this new law in terms of fighting terrorism?
It's a landmark change. So the Commissioner for the AFP, the head of ASIO, state police have told us that effectively terrorists and organised criminals have gone dark using encrypted applications. They've told us that without these powers they're not even in the game. So this doesn't give them an edge, it just gives them a fighting chance to keep Australians safe.
Can you talk to us specifically though because I think sometimes at home when we hear the word, encryption, we don't really understand what that means. What sort of social media messaging services are these terrorists potentially using?
Sure, if I put it this way, I was a Crown Prosecutor in 2002, when a police officer went to a court and got a warrant over someone's phone because they were a suspected terrorist or organised criminal. That was really, really helpful and important because that warrant allowed you to hear them talking to each other on their phones. They're not talking to each other anymore. They're using smart phones and encrypted apps like WhatsApp or Wickr and instead of talking in the planning of their terrorist events they are texting each other on encrypted applications. So we can get the warrant over that terrorist's phone but we cannot get into the communication. What this law does is it enables us to request, and if they decline to politely require, the tech company to help us make good on the warrant so that the warrant actually allows us to do what it's meant to do which is listen to the communication of terrorists and organised criminals.
So in what sort of instances or circumstances could you have the authority to go in and check these encrypted messages?
Well you only ever get a warrant if you've got a reasonable suspicion in front of the appropriate judge or in the case of ASIO they come to me if they've got reasonable suspicion that people are in the process of committing a very serious offence like terrorism or a homicide or a drug importation and then that has to be shown to a reasonable level of suspicion and then the court or the Attorney-General will allow for the warrant. And it won't be in all cases that you'll need the assistance of the tech company to make good on the warrant, but in some cases we may need them with their expertise to tell us how it is that the warrant can be effective.
LARA VELLA: So in serious cases in other words?
In serious individual specific cases and this law has a very clear provision in it that nothing in the nature of systemic weaknesses across multiple phones can be created. This is only about individuals that we suspect of terrorism, homicide offences, serious drug offences and serious child sex offences.
Alright, well on the flip side of this there are fears, though, that this will make the internet less secure. What steps are being put in place to ensure that that won't happen?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well as I say the legislation specifically prohibits anything being created which you would call a systemic weakness. So we can only ever ask for the assistance of people when it is in direct relation to individuals that we have a very strong suspicion and reasonable belief are about to commit a terrorist attack or a murder or a child sex offence. So it is very narrowly cast.
Nothing like a systemic weakness can be created and that gives very strong protection to everyone who uses these apps every day, like I do and everyone around Parliament does and every journalist I know does. The bottom line is that where terrorists were previously talking to each other to plan their terrorist plots and outcomes, they are now using encrypted applications and we must have a way with the assistance of the tech companies to break into that encryption.
LARA VELLA: Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, thanks for your time this morning.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you very much, cheers.