The Australian government wants tech companies to reveal encrypted messages

Attorney-general George Brandis, left, with Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Getty Images

The Turnbull government is planning to introduce new laws that will force tech companies such as Facebook and Google to reveal the contents of encrypted messages to Australia’s counter-terrorism and security organisations.

Turnbull is set to announce the cyber security laws today, having raised the issue at the recent G20 summit and arguing that access to encrypted messaging services was essential in the fight against global terrorism.

The government argues that security forces need to gain access to communications between suspected terrorists and other criminals, saying online encryption is involved in 90% investigations by ASIO and the domestic spy agency has seen the number of encrypted messages intercepted rise to 55% this month, up from 3% four years ago.

The government says the new laws will be similar to the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act.

Attorney-general George Brandis told ABC radio’s AM program today that the laws were needed for terrorism, serious organised crime and paedophile networks.

Senator Brandis said he was hoping that technology companies would assist law enforcement and that the government’s coercive powers would be “a last resort”.

“If we can’t get the voluntary cooperation what we’re seeking is to extend the existing laws,” he said.

“All we’re seeking to do is apply an existing principal to a new technology.”

The minister said the government would not be seeking so-called “back door” access to communications.

The government’s plans to introduce the legislation before the end of the year.

The move comes after prime minister previously revealed two years ago during debate over the government’s data retention laws that he was a fan of encrypted messaging and used the Wickr app and WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, to communicate with other ministers.

Attorney-General Brandis said encrypted messages were used during the planning of the Anzac Day terror plot, which was foiled by security agencies.

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