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Surrender your crypto keys or you're off to chokey, says Australia

Ignoring proposed 'intelligibility assistance notices' would be a crime

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Australia's Attorney-General's department has floated a plan that would allow national security agencies to seize citizens' crypto keys.

The AG's submission to the Senate inquiry into telecommunications interception outlines the plan, saying that the moves are necessary because new telecommunications technologies are "providing criminals, terrorists and others who threaten national security with new and sophisticated ways to communicate and organise without being identified, investigated or prosecuted".

The department therefore thinks a new kind of warrant that would compel service providers and/or individuals to hand over encryption keys. Here's the description of the preferred regime:

“The Department’s current view is that law enforcement, anti-corruption and national security agencies should be permitted to apply to an independent issuing authority for a warrant authorising the agency to issue ‘intelligibility assistance notices’ to service providers or other persons,” the submission states.

“Where issued to a service provider, such notices would formalise existing arrangements,” the A-G's department says, while for individuals, agencies could apply for warrants “requiring a person to ‘provide any information or assistance that is reasonable and necessary’ to allow information held on the device to be converted into an intelligible form.”

Naturally enough, the submission states that failure to comply with a demand for passwords should constitute a criminal offence.

It's no surprise that the Attorney-General's department is also strongly opposed to the bill proposed by Australian Greens' Senator Scott Ludlam that would compel law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before seeking access to telecommunications metadata: the agencies it's representing managing don't like the combination of delays, paperwork and oversight it creates.

Since the previous government was notorious for its unflagging support of its spooks, the measures seem likely to find sympathetic ears in Parliament. Australia's elected representatives will therefore probably once again put the intelligence community's desires ahead of citizens' rights. ®

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