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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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Social Media Giant Facebook Requires ‘Significant Work’ to Stop Political Bias

“We don’t allow content that might encourage offline harm or is intended to intimidate, exclude or silence people,” he added

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FILE - The logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square, March 29, 2018. VOA

Facebook has released results of an independent internal audit conducted by a former Republican senator that found the social networking giant has been biased against conservatives and needs to do “significant work” to stop this.

Former Senator Jon Kyl, a respected Republican and his team at the law firm Covington and Burling met with more than 130 leading conservative politicians and organizations and produced the report.

Facebook has long been accused of bias against conservative viewpoints to appear on its platform

“Although these concerns appear across the political and ideological spectrum, members of the conservative community in particular are concerned that the Silicon Valley-based company’s admittedly liberal culture negatively influences the reach of conservative ideas and news.”

“Political conservatives, religious traditionalists, and others are increasingly feeling marginalised by cultural ‘gatekeepers’ such as social media, entertainment media, and academia,” the report said.

According to Nick Clegg, Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications at Facebook, the report also highlights the changes Facebook has made to address some of those concerns.

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FILE – Attendees walk past a Facebook logo during Facebook Inc’s F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, United States. VOA

“These include making our decisions more transparent by providing more information on why people are seeing specific posts on News Feed; ensuring Page managers can see when enforcement action takes place; launching an appeals process; and creating a new Oversight Board for content,” Clegg said in a statement late Tuesday.

This is the first stage of an ongoing process and Senator Kyl and his team will report again in a few months’ time.

“Facebook’s policies and their application have the potential to restrict free expression. Given the platform’s popularity and ubiquity, this is a danger that must be taken very seriously. Facebook insists that it is committed to safety, equal treatment and building community,” read the report.

Also Read: Apple Card Now Available to all U.S. Customers

“Facebook has recognized the importance of our assessment and has taken some steps to address the concerns we uncovered. But there is still significant work to be done to satisfy the concerns we heard from conservatives,” it added.

Clegg said that “while we err on the side of free speech, there are critical exceptions”.

“We don’t allow content that might encourage offline harm or is intended to intimidate, exclude or silence people,” he added. (IANS)