Australia’s tech industry has the potential to be among the best in the world. But the federal government’s overreaching encryption bill has put that potential at risk.
The bill, passed in the Senate late last year thanks to Labor support, gives Australia’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies the power to force tech companies to decrypt messages the government suspects may be related to serious criminal activity.
The precise definition of serious criminal activity is conveniently grey. And this could, of course, change dramatically over time. Meaning the bill could potentially open the door for government agencies to view all encrypted messages.
Don’t worry. It’s all in the name of keeping you safe.
But the bill is a bitter pill to swallow for tech companies. And they’re pushing back.
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Tech industry rallies for amendments
Critics of the bill say that Aussie companies ‘are already losing revenue’. As such, the tech industry has congregated to demand necessary changes be made to the new legislation.
According to AAP, Software giant Atlassian, graphic design tool Canva and venture capital firm AirTree have are part of the weight behind the call for change.
An industry body for start-up companies, StartupAUS has compiled a four-page report outlining the changes that should be made to the ‘bitterly disappointing’ bill. It was submitted to the Federal Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on Tuesday.
StartupAUS CEO Alex McCauley says in the submission:
‘The Act grants the government globally unprecedented power to involve itself in the operations of technology companies, has a wide scope with little oversight, and has created a harmful perception of Australian technology to customers overseas.’
The amendments the tech industry wants
Four key recommendations were made by the industry body in relation to the bill.
One is a call to see the government ‘remove the possibility for TCNs (technical capability notices) to be issued to individual employees’. These TCNs could allow employees to be spied upon or monitored through spyware and software without the employee knowing.
The report also asks for more clarification as to what a Designated Communications Provider is, as opposed to ‘any technology provider that offers technology designed to connect to the internet, whether or not the service is designed to support communications’.
They also want objective reviews to be implemented on the use of these powers to prosecute to ensure they remain effective.
And finally, the report asked for a stricter definition of a serious crime to ones that ‘pose a genuine and serious threat to Australia and its citizens’.
CEO of Canva said regarding the need for these changes:
‘We need to ensure every effort is made so that international confidence in the Australian technology sector is not undermined by new legislation.
‘We welcome a formal consultation to amend the Act so it is practical for our burgeoning tech industry, without cannibalising on our efforts to innovate.’
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