Tougher financial penalties could soon be imposed on tech giants like Apple and Facebook for failing to co-operate with security agencies tracking terror suspects and criminals.
The Turnbull government has unveiled new laws that include the power to force companies to disclose encrypted information on devices such as smart phones and computers, as well social media platforms.
Cyber Security Minister Angus Taylor said encryption technologies were being used by organised criminals, terrorists and pedophiles to evade detection.
“We know that more than 90 per cent of data lawfully intercepted by the Australian Federal Police now use some form of encryption,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
“This has directly impacted around 200 serious criminal and terrorism-related investigations in the last 12 months alone.
“We must ensure our laws reflect the rapid take-up of secure online communications by those who seek to do us harm.”
Technology companies and civil libertarians have warned the changes could weaken privacy protections.
Mr Taylor said the new legislation would “expressly prevent the weakening of encryption”, and would not include “back doors” to give security agencies easy access to data.
“I am committed to maintaining the integrity of Australians’ personal information, devices and communications,” he said.
“Our first priority is keeping Australians safe and these measures will go a long way to ensure that criminals cannot hide.”
Under the proposed legislation, if law enforcement agencies have a valid search warrant to monitor a phone, they could read the decrypted message at the same time as it is sent.
Agencies could take copies of what they see, search the device for content and even delete items such as messages or photos if necessary.
Mr Taylor says this level of surveillance would only be possible under strict guidelines.
“Those crimes, in the case of a computer access warrant, must be serious,” he told the ABC.
“It’s not any crime, it’s got to be a serious crime. So it’s three years’ imprisonment or higher.”