The law, which was proposed on Tuesday, would force tech companies that have encrypted data relevant to an investigation to hand over the information they have stored when requested by law enforcement. Companies that don’t comply could face fines up to $7.3 million and people involved in not complying could face jail time, the law reads, according to Reuters.
Apple, Facebook, Google, and other major tech companies operate services that have end-to-end encryption. Content sent via Apple’s iMessages, for example, is inaccessible to anyone but the two individuals (or group) sending and receiving messages with each other. Not even Apple can decrypt the messages and hand them over to authorities. Facebook’s WhatsApp similarly offers end-to-end encryption on all sent messages.
While Apple and others have argued that encryption ensures privacy and is a human right, the policy has angered law enforcement and government authorities that want access to messages and other content in connection with an investigation. Law enforcement agencies argue Apple and others are hurting their investigations and potentially slowing the process of bringing people to justice.
Still, Apple and other companies haven’t turned over encrypted data when asked by other law enforcement agencies. And it’s unlikely that even if the Australian law passes, they would change tack.
It’s unclear what that might mean for the relationship the tech companies have with Australia.