Atlassian co-founder slams government over encryption bill: 'This poorly written law is putting jobs at risk'

SuppliedAtlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar.
  • Atlassian co-founder and co-chief executive Scott Farquhar repeats claim encryption laws place tech industry in a chokehold.
  • The tech star calls for government to keep its promise and review legislation.
  • “At a time when the the industry is trying to create jobs for the future, this poorly written law is putting jobs at risk,” he said.

Atlassian’s Scott Farquhar is calling on the federal government to keep its promise and revisit the controversial and hastily-passed encryption-cracking bill.

Speaking to the Safe Encryption Australian forum Wednesday morning, the Atlassian co-founder and co-chief executive repeated his claim that the legislation is putting Australian technology industry in a “chokehold,” creating uncertainty and putting jobs at risk.

“The law has created uncertainty for our staff and our customers. It places the tech industry in a chokehold,” Farquhar said, according to The Guardian, which first reported the comments.

“At a time when the the industry is trying to create jobs for the future, this poorly written law is putting jobs at risk.”

The Telecommunications Assistance and Access Bill gives law enforcement agencies new powers to combat increasing levels of encryption.

Law enforcement agencies have complained applications like Signal, Whatsapp and Wickr block them from reading messages in investigations, even when they have a warrant. The bill allows a “computer access warrant” for law enforcement agencies to secretly obtain evidence directly from a device, if a judge signs off on it.

The objection from technology companies is that the legislation would force them to introduce ‘back doors’ to their products, reducing the level of protection for all users.

Farquhar is not the only tech leader calling for change. In a separate report by the Guardian, Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith said Australia has earned a reputation as a place where companies are happy to store their data due to the encryption laws.

“But when I travel to other countries I hear companies and governments say ‘we are no longer comfortable putting our data in Australia’,” said Smith.

“So they are asking us to build more data centres in other countries, and we’ll have to sort through those issues.”

The Liberal federal government passed the legislation late last year with the assistance of the Labor party, which baulked at the opportunity to force amendments to the bill due to a fear they would be accused of putting national security at risk. The government said it would consider amendments to the regulation in the new year, but that is yet to happen.

“We recognise the government’s duty to keep Australians safe,” Farquhar said. “There are ways to do that without casting a wide net and jeopardising the whole tech community.”

According to The Guardian, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is due to hand down a report on the legislation next week, the last week of parliament before the election.

“It is now almost April,” said Farquhar. “We are simply asking the government to keep its promise.”

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