Tech Giants Atlassian, Canva Fight 'Disappointing' Encryption Bill
Australia's startup industry is fighting what it says are troubling aspects of the federal government's encryption bill.
Tech giants have thrown their support behind a submission to limit the federal government's controversial encryption bill which they say will "cannibalise" the industry's growth.
Labor has also flagged it will seek amendments to the legislation in the Senate this week, including around the contentious 'systemic weakness' provision which tech experts fear could introduce widespread vulnerabilities and security issues into everyday software.
StartupAUS, a peak industry body for startups, made a four-page submission to the Federal Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on Tuesday, outlining urgent changes it says need to be made to the bill, which passed the Senate in December last year with Labor support.
Software giant Atlassian, graphic design tool Canva and venture capital firm AirTree have all thrown their weight behind the call for change.
The bill, which was designed to give intelligence and law enforcement agencies easier access to encrypted communications used by terrorists and criminals, will force tech companies to help authorities snoop on those messages.
Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, who is the head of the parliamentary committee scrutinising the bill, says he expects amendments to be introduced in the Senate on Wednesday.
The amendments will ensure an independent review of the bill occurs within 18 months of it passing parliament, and that commonwealth and state anti-corruption bodies are involved with overseeing its use.
The AFP has already used its new powers to prevent drug importation through cryptocurrencies, as well as child exploitation material being shared, he added.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus flagged on Tuesday that Labor would look to introduce amendments to the legislation this week, to ensure the laws "conform to the [Intelligence] Committee’s recommendations." Dreyfus claimed in a speech that "the government’s amendments have created additional confusion."
"[Labor's] amendment is necessary to help protect the personal information, and therefore the security, of virtually every Australian who has a smartphone or uses the internet," he said.
"As a matter of principle, Labor does not believe that the Attorney-General or a senior police officer should be given the power to compel an innocent person, unconnected to an investigation, to provide technical assistance to a government agency without a warrant. Yet this is what the Access Act currently allows."
Greens senator Jordon Steele-John told 10 daily that the opposition had been "duped" by the government into quickly passing the bill on the last sitting day of 2018, and said he was "doubtful" amendments would be passed.
StartupAUS says the legislation is "bitterly disappointing".
"The Act grants the government globally unprecedented power to involve itself in the operations of technology companies, has a wide scope with little oversight, and has created a harmful perception of Australian technology to customers overseas," chief executive Alex McCauley wrote in the submission.
Four key recommendations were made by the industry body in relation to the bill - including asking for a review to ensure the laws are not used inappropriately.
"We need to ensure every effort is made so that international confidence in the Australian technology sector is not undermined by new legislation," Canva chief operating officer Cliff Obrech said in a statement.
"We welcome a formal consultation to amend the Act so it is practical for our burgeoning tech industry, without cannibalising on our efforts to innovate."