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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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Google has also shelved its plan to re-enter China through a censored search application code-named "Project Dragonfly" after massive protests. VOA

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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Google’s Wing Aviation Receives Approval from FAA to Operate Drone for Deliveries

It's the first time a company has gotten a federal air carrier certification for drone deliveries

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A man using a mobile phone walks past Google offices in New York, Dec. 17, 2018. VOA

Google affiliate Wing Aviation has received federal approval allowing it to make commercial deliveries by drone.

It’s the first time a company has gotten a federal air carrier certification for drone deliveries. The approval from the Federal Aviation Administration means that Wing can operate commercial drone flights in part of Virginia, which it plans to begin later this year.

The FAA said Tuesday that the company met the agency’s safety requirements by participating in a pilot program in Virginia with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and Virginia Tech, and by conducting thousands of flights in Australia over the past several years.

“This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.

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“This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement. Wikimedia

Wing said the approval “means that we can begin a commercial service delivering goods from local businesses to homes in the United States.”

The company didn’t name any businesses that would take part in commercial deliveries. It said it plans to spend the next several months demonstrating its technology and answering questions from people and businesses in Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Virginia.

Wing said it will “solicit feedback with the goal of launching a delivery trial later this year.”

Wing said that to win FAA certification it had to show that one of its drone deliveries would pose less risk to pedestrians than the same trip made in a car. The company said its drones have flown more than 70,000 test flights and made more than 3,000 deliveries to customers in Australia.

The company is touting many benefits from deliveries by electric drones. It says medicine and food can be delivered faster, that drones will be especially helpful to consumers who need help getting around, and that they can reduce traffic and emissions.

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FILE – A drone demonstrates delivery capabilities from the top of a UPS truck during testing in Lithia, Florida, Feb. 20, 2017. VOA

Drone usage in the U.S. has grown rapidly in some industries such as utilities, pipelines and agriculture. But drones have faced more obstacles in delivering retail packages and food because of federal regulations that bar most flights over crowds of people and beyond sight of the operator without a waiver from the FAA.

ALSO READ: All that you Need to Know about Buying Watches

The federal government recently estimated that about 110,000 commercial drones were operating in the U.S., and that number is expected to zoom to about 450,000 in 2022.

Amazon is working on drone delivery, a topic keen to CEO Jeff Bezos. Delivery companies including UPS and DHL have also conducted tests. (VOA)