Last week, the Australian Government announced that it would propose new anti-terror laws that force telecommunications and multinational tech companies to give law enforcement agencies access to encrypted data of suspected criminals and terrorists.

Cyber Security Minister Angus Taylor said the laws would give police, intelligence and security agencies the ability to bypass encryption on messaging (such as private messages sent on Whatsapp and Facebook), phone calls, photos, location and apps.

Mr Taylor was tight-lipped about whether surveillance codes would be put into mobile devices. He did, however, stress that there would not be a requirement for tech companies to build a “backdoor” function into apps and equipment, or provide an “encryption key” that allowed law enforcement to access data at any time. Instead he stressed the need for “collaboration” between law enforcement and tech service providers. Nevertheless, companies would still face significant fines if they did not comply with requests to release the data!

The legislation is expected to be released in coming weeks, and will be open to public consultation. A clear issue which has been raised is the privacy implications of the proposed law, since the Government has not disclosed whether the legislation will be supplemented by strengthened privacy measures with respect to how the law enforcement agencies treat the data. Security of the data to be accessed is another issue – will there be additional measures to protect decrypted data?

The policy will surely ignite the debate between enhancing law enforcement and security for Australians, and preventing unwarranted intrusions into Australians’ private lives.