Encryption and other forms of electronic protection are vital security measures that protect private, commercial and Government data and make the communications and devices of all people more secure. However, these security measures are also being employed by terrorists, child sex offenders and criminal organisations to mask illegal conduct. The exploitation of modern communications technology for illicit ends is a significant obstacle to the lawful access of communications by Australia’s law enforcement and national security agencies.
To address these threats, the Government has developed the Assistance and Access Bill to secure critical assistance from the communications industry and enable law enforcement to effectively investigate serious crimes in the digital era.
Public submissions on the exposure draft Assistance and Access Bill have now closed. An amended Bill is now before the Parliament. This Bill has been referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for review.
The challenges posed by encryption
Encryption conceals the content of communications and data held on devices, as well as the identity of users. Secure, encrypted communications are increasingly being used by terrorist groups and organised criminals to avoid detection and disruption. The problem is widespread, for example:
- Encryption impacts at least nine out of every ten of ASIO’s priority cases.
- Over 90 per cent of data being lawfully intercepted by the AFP now use some form of encryption.
- Effectively all communications among terrorists and organised crime groups are expected to be encrypted by 2020.
State and Territory law enforcement are facing significant challenges as well. The following example from Victoria Police demonstrates:
A high risk Registered Sex Offender (RSO) was placed on the register for raping a 16 year old female, served nine years imprisonment and is now monitored by Corrections via two ankle bracelets whilst out on parole. Victoria Police received intelligence that he was breaching his RSO and parole conditions by contacting a number of females typically between 13 and 17 years of age. Enquiries showed that he was contacting these females and offering them drugs in return for sexual favours. The suspect was arrested and his mobile phone was seized but despite legislative requirements he refused to provide his passcode. Due to an inability to access his phone as well as the fact that he used encrypted communication methods such as Snapchat and Facebook Messenger, Victoria Police was unable to access evidence which would have enabled them to secure a successful prosecution and identify further victims and offences. These are high victim impact crimes that are being hindered by the inability of law enforcement to access encrypted communications.
Obstacles to the lawful access of communications significantly impacts the ability of law enforcement and security agencies to enforce the law, investigate serious crimes and protect the public. The measures in the Assistance and Access Bill will help our agencies overcome these challenges.
A new framework for industry assistance
The communications industry is a crucial partner for law enforcement and security authorities. The Assistance and Access Bill establishes a model for Australian agencies to engage with domestic and international communications providers.
The Australian Government remains committed to the security of communications services and devices and the privacy of Australians. These powers
cannot be used to introduce so-called ‘backdoors’ or require a provider to disclose communications content or data.
Modern warrants for the digital era
Modern communications devices are used by criminals with increasing sophistication to conduct illicit activity online. The Assistance and Access Bill equips law enforcement agencies with the tools to effectively investigate criminal activity in the digital era, see
Computer Access Warrants (68.5KB PDF).
Strengthening search warrants
The Assistance and Access Bill updates existing search warrant powers to account for the growing complexity of communications devices and the evidential value of data.
Assistance powers for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)
A wide array of persons can assist ASIO to safeguard Australia’s national security. The Assistance and Access Bill enhances ASIO’s ability to collect intelligence by seeking assistance from the public and others who hold valuable information.
Submissions received from Public Consultation
The Department of Home Affairs received submissions in response to the exposure draft Assistance and Access Bill from individuals and organisations.
A sample of submissions received with consent to publish, other than those provided on a confidential basis, are listed below in alphabetical order. All submissions received with consent to publish will be listed shortly.