Sydney: Australia is mulling a strict law that gives enforcement agencies power to track messages on platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram that offer end-to-end encryption and also to force users to open their smartphones when demanded, a media report said. Also Read - Signal 'Copies' Several WhatsApp Features Amid New User Surge
The controversial encryption bill comes amid allegations of encrypted platforms facilitating spread of rumours, hate speech and even criminal activities like child trafficking and drugs businesses. Also Read - Google Threatens to Shut Search Engine in Australia, PM Morrison Hits Back
In countries like India, messages circulated in WhatsApp have been linked to several lynching cases, forcing the government to ask platform to take suitable preventive action. Also Read - WhatsApp Privacy Row: Parliamentary Panel to Grill Facebook Executives Over Recent Policy Change
But the new Australia bill also raises privacy concerns as under the proposed legislation, the Australian government agencies could compel companies to build spyware.
The proposed laws could force companies to remove electronic protections, assist government agencies in accessing material from a suspect’s device, and in getting technical information such as design specifications to help in an investigation, News.com.au reported on Wednesday.
Critics have slammed the bill for being broad in scope, vague and potentially damaging to the security of the global digital economy, the report said, adding that a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has been scrutinizing the bill.
The laws will help security agencies nab terrorists, child sex offenders and other serious criminals, Australia’s Attorney-General Christian Porter was quoted as saying.
About 95 per cent of people currently being surveilled by security agencies are using encrypted messages, he added.
The spying powers are limited to only “serious offences” such as preventing terrorism and tackling organised crime in Australia, dailymail.co.uk reported.
In a statement to IANS, WhatsApp said it cares deeply about the privacy of its users.
“WhatsApp cares deeply about the privacy of our users and we remain committed to providing end-to-end encryption,” a company spokesperson said on Wednesday.
WhatsApp has challenged government attempts to curtail the use of end-to-end encryption in the past, most notably in Brazil.