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Australia to demand weaker encryption at ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence summit

The Australian Government has announced that it will push for tech companies to provide government access to encrypted messaging services, in order to help monitor and prevent terrorism.

This could involve governments demanding access to personal messages secured with end-to-end encryption. Currently, messaging services such as WhatsApp boast that nobody other than the intended recipients can read their messages - not even the company itself.

This security has been criticised by some politicians for allowing criminals, particularly terrorists, to communicate with complete privacy.

“I will raise the need to address ongoing challenges posed by terrorists and criminals using encryption,” announced Senator George Brandis, the Australian Attorney General.

“These discussions will focus on the need to cooperate with service providers to ensure reasonable assistance is provided to law enforcement and security agencies.”

Senator Brandis confirmed that industry involvement in the prevention of terrorism involving the decryption of private communications would be a priority for Australia at the ‘Five Eyes’ summit in Ottawa, Canada, this week.

The ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence network is made up of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. At the upcoming summit, representatives will discuss how to combat terrorism and border protection, senior Australian ministers confirmed.

The intelligence alliance – formed in the post-World War II years – monitors billions of government and private communications around the world.

In recent years, several governments have criticised encrypted messaging services for not providing backdoor access to government agencies to monitor possible criminal activity. Following the Westminster terrorist attack this year, which killed five, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd described end-to-end encryption as “completely unacceptable”. The perpetrator had sent a message via WhatsApp shortly before committing the attack.

“There should be no place for terrorists to hide,” she said.

These calls for backdoor access were criticised by think tanks, industry experts and civil liberties groups as "misguided".

This echoes similar criticism of tech giants by government and politicians, such as former Prime Minister David Cameron’s demand that intelligence agencies be able to break into encrypted communications of terror suspects following the 2015 Charlie Hebdo terror attack in Paris.

Following the 2015 San Bernardino terror attack which killed 14 people, the FBI demanded that Apple allow the government to extract secured information from the attacker’s iPhone, a demand which Apple refused.

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