The Turnbull government plans to give law enforcement agencies access to private, encrypted user data held by giant IT companies like Facebook, Google and Apple.
Legislation is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks to give police, intelligence and security agencies the ability to access the encrypted data of suspected terrorists, pedophiles or others.
The government maintains it will achieve the access without creating a backdoor for hackers, but won’t say yet how it will manage it.
Cyber Security Minister Angus Taylor admits with rapidly changing technology, offences can’t be investigated in the same way police and intelligence services have relied on in the past.
“It’s fair to say the law has got behind the technology. It’s now time to catch back up but with all the right protections,” he told AAP on Wednesday.
Encryption is used as a security tool for personal banking platforms and some messaging services.
Telcos like Telstra, Optus and Vodafone and tech service providers like Facebook, WhatsApp, Apple and Google would be obliged to co-operate with law enforcement to provide access to data when there is a warrant, under the proposed new laws.
Search warrants would also be modernised to require a person to provide access to their private online accounts.
But how exactly law enforcement will be able to access the information is unclear.
Mr Taylor refused to answer questions, arguing a long-standing convention that tools and techniques used by law enforcement to catch criminals aren’t publicised.
“What I can say is, it is possible to access modern data often with modern telecommunications systems, whether over-the-top messaging apps or modern telco networks,” he told AAP.
“But it must be warranted and it must not enable them to weaken or to create system weaknesses.”
He told AAP he could “absolutely” ensure the private encrypted messages of individuals not suspected of crimes would be safe.
Legislation would include the requirement that methods for accessing encrypted information not weaken or create systemic weaknesses in the system.