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Australia Pushes Tech Giants To Release Encrypted Data

The Five Eyes intelligence network, comprised of the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand

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A smartphone and computer screen display the Google home page. Australia is one step closer to forcing tech firms to give police access to encrypted data. VOA
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The Australian parliament’s lower house Thursday passed a bill to force tech firms such as Alphabet Inc’s Google, Facebook and Apple to give police access to encrypted data, pushing it closer to becoming a precedent-setting law.

However, the proposal, staunchly opposed by the tech giants because Australia is seen as a test case as other nations explore similar rules, faces a sterner test in the upper house Senate, where privacy and information security concerns are sticking points.

The bill provides for fines of up to A$10 million ($7.3 million) for institutions and prison terms for individuals for failing to hand over data linked to suspected illegal activities.

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An advertisement in The New York Times is displayed on Sunday, March 25, 2018, in New York. Facebook’s CEO apologized for the Cambridge Analytica scandal with ads in multiple U.S. and British newspapers. VOA

Labor party concerns

Earlier in the week it appeared set to secure enough support from both major political parties, with some amendments, to secure passage. However, the main opposition Labor party said Thursday the bill could undermine data security and jeopardize future information sharing with U.S. authorities.

“A range of stakeholders have said there is a real risk that the new powers could make Australians less safe … (by) weakening the encryption that protects national infrastructure,” Labor’s Mark Dreyfus told parliament.

The proposed laws could also scupper cooperation with U.S. authorities because they lack sufficient privacy safeguards, Dreyfus said. Labor voted the bill through the lower house but was still negotiating with the government on the issue and would debate it in the Senate, he said.

Thursday was the last parliamentary sitting day of the year until a truncated session in February, meaning the impasse could delay the laws for months.

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Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a press conference in Berlin, Germany, April 23, 2018. (VOA)

The government has said the proposed laws are needed to counter militant attacks and organized crime and that security agencies would need to seek warrants to access personal data.

“I will fight to get those encryption laws passed,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra after Dreyfus spoke. “I want to see our police have the powers they need to stop terrorists.”

Tech firms opposed

Technology companies have strongly opposed efforts to create what they see as a back door to users’ data, a standoff that was propelled into the public arena by Apple’s refusal to unlock an iPhone used by an attacker in a 2015 shooting in California.

Representatives of Google, Amazon and Apple did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Apple has said in a public submission to lawmakers access to encrypted data would necessitate weakening the encryption and increase the risk of hacking.

A Facebook spokesman directed Reuters to a statement made by the Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI), of which Facebook as well as Apple, Google, Amazon and Twitter, are members.

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during a news conference in New Delhi. VOA

“This legislation is out of step with surveillance and privacy legislation in Europe and other countries that have strong national security concerns,” the DIGI statement said. “Several critical issues remain unaddressed in this legislation, most significantly the prospect of introducing systemic weaknesses that could put Australians’ data security at risk,” it said.

Broad access

If the bill becomes law, Australia would be one of the first nations to impose broad access requirements on technology companies, although others, particularly so-called Five Eyes countries, are poised to follow.

Also Read: EU Authorities Direct Tech Giants To Submit Reports Regarding ‘Fake News’

The Five Eyes intelligence network, comprised of the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, have each repeatedly warned national security was at risk because authorities were unable to monitor the communications of suspects. (VOA)

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Irish Watchdog Opens Inquiry into Latest Privacy Breach of Facebook

The private information of Facebook users was alleged to be used to influence the US 2016 general elections in favour of President Donald Trump's campaign

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Irish watchdog opens inquiry into latest Facebook privacy breach. Pixabay

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) has announced a fresh investigation into Facebook, a day after the social networking giant admitted another security breach where nearly 6.8 million users risked their private photos being exposed to third-party apps.

Facebook, which is already facing a probe from the Irish watchdog for a previous privacy leak in September that affected 50 million people, may end up with fine of 4 per cent of its annual turnover – the highest fine under the new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), The Independent reported on Saturday.

In Facebook’s case, the fine could amount to nearly 1.5 billion euros.

“The Irish DPC has received a number of breach notifications from Facebook since the introduction of the GDPR on May 25, 2018,” a spokesperson for the watchdog was quoted as saying.

The fresh move came after Facebook on Friday said more than 1,500 apps built by 876 developers may have also been affected by the bug that exposed users’ unshared photos during a 12-day-period from September 13 to 25.

Facebook, in a statement, said it has fixed the breach and will roll out next week “tools for app developers that will allow them to determine which people using their app might be impacted by this bug”.

“Currently, we believe this may have affected up to 6.8 million users and up to 1,500 apps built by 876 developers. The only apps affected by this bug were ones that Facebook approved to access the photos API and that individuals had authorised to access their photos.

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This photo shows a Facebook app icon on a smartphone in New York. VOA

“We’re sorry this happened,” said Facebook, adding that it will also notify the people potentially impacted by this bug via an alert.

The disclosure is another example of Facebook’s failure to properly protect users’ privacy that may drew more criticism of its privacy policy.

Earlier this month, Italian regulators fined Facebook 10 million euros for selling users’ data without informing them.

The competition watchdog handed Facebook two fines totalling 10 million euros, “also for discouraging users from trying to limit how the company shares their data”.

The Irish watchdog, which is Facebook’s lead privacy regulator in Europe, in October opened a formal investigation into a data breach which affected 50 million users.

Also Read- Prime Minister Narendra Modi Extends Condolences to France Terror Attack Victims

“The investigation will examine Facebook’s compliance with its obligation under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to implement appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure the security and safeguarding of the personal data it processes,” said the DPC.

The world’s largest social media network has been grilled over the past year for its mishandling of user data, including its involvement in a privacy scandal in March when Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy firm, was accused of illegally accessing the data of more than 87 million Facebook users without their consent.

The private information of Facebook users was alleged to be used to influence the US 2016 general elections in favour of President Donald Trump’s campaign. (IANS)