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Australia to pass law granting police access to encrypted messages

Critics and privacy advocates warn the laws would weaken cyber security and be among the most far-reaching in a Western democracy.

[CANBERRA] Australia is set to pass legislation giving police and intelligence agencies access to encrypted messages on platforms such as WhatsApp, despite protests from civil libertarians and tech giants including Facebook Inc and Google.

The main opposition Labor party said it had reached an in-principle agreement to pass the legislation after the government agreed to changes that would "ensure there is better oversight and limitation of the powers in this bill", Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in a statement.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the new powers are needed to help foil terrorist attacks and criminals including child pornographers who use encrypted messaging apps. The legislation could force companies such as Facebook and Google to help de-crypt such private communications.

The Digital Industry Group, an industry association whose members include Facebook and Google, campaigned against the bill in a loose alliance with Amnesty International and the Human Rights Law Center.

Lobby group Digital Rights Watch said "some extremely dangerous elements" of the legislation had been addressed by the agreement between Labor and the government.

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"But the fundamental fact remains that the powers being sought by law enforcement are ill-informed, badly drafted and a gross overreach," it said in a statement.

"This bill is still deeply flawed, and has the likely impact of weakening Australia's overall cybersecurity, lowering confidence in e-commerce, reducing standards of safety for data storage and reducing civil right protections."


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