Home Government Tech Policy Encryption bill: Porter outlines changes that made deal possible
Christian Porter: "We've stood our grounds, I think we've reached now a very sound agreement." Christian Porter: "We've stood our grounds, I think we've reached now a very sound agreement." Courtesy YouTube Featured

The Federal Government says Labor's initial suggestions about passing a cut-down version of the encryption bill were not acceptable, and a compromise announced on Tuesday had removed some of Labor's demands.

Attorney-General Christian Porter told Sky News on Tuesday that Labor wanted to omit all state police forces from the law that would be passed this week, and make it cover only those agencies dealing with anti-terror issues.

The government and Labor reached a compromise deal on Tuesday to pass the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 before Parliament rises for the year on Thursday. (Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus made a statement about the deal which iTWire has reported here.)

"And they also wanted to really limit the number of offences it would apply to," he told former Coalition adviser Peta Credlin on her show. "Now we thought that all those things together make the exercise totally ineffective. We've stood our grounds, I think we've reached now a very sound agreement."

Porter said state police would be included in the compromise bill and it covered a broad range of offences. "...it won't just be limited to terrorism or Commonwealth child sex offences and, importantly, the notices won't be so hard to get that they'll be ineffective."

During a doorstop at which he announced the deal with Labor, Porter said there would be a definition of the term "systemic weakness" in the bill. It is something that any authority is forbidden from introducing into a system in the event that there is a requirement to build functionality into the system in order to obtain evidence.

Asked about the definition of systemic weakness during his doorstop, Porter responded: "That is a very complicated definition – I won't even try and recite it to you here. And in fact, the final drafting is being done with Labor and by way of negotiation on that at the moment. But it is, as it sounds, it is a weakness that would affect all applications on all devices at any given single point in time."

Last Friday, during a hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, the chairman of encryption technology company Senetas, Francis Galbally, told the panel that it was not possible to have knowledge of what a systemic weakness was until it manifested itself.

He cited the definition offered by the Internet Architecture Board: "Any method used to compel an infrastructure provider to break encryption or provide false trust arrangements introduces a systemic weakness, as it erodes trust in the Internet itself. In other words, the mere ability to compel Internet infrastructure providers' compliance introduces that vulnerability to the entire system, because it weakens that same trust."

Porter said that even with a "thorough-going definition" of systemic weakness, the questions around it would persist. "...the point is that even with that thorough-going definition, we acknowledge that there are always going to be disputes as to whether or not a request may or may not meet that definition and we are pushing that dispute to experts and to former judicial officers so that that dispute can be resolved absolutely, fairly, and independently," he said.

Asked about amendments to the bill next year, which Dreyfus had mentioned, Porter said: "There's a statutory review embedded in the act. We've also agreed to have the PJCIS review it in its first 12 months. These are not unusual things. It's frankly not unusual for pieces of legislation of this level of complexity to be amended down the track, whether that's 12 or 18 months."


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.


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