Tech Companies Defy Australian & U.K. Governments on Encryption Laws
Apple last month joined its industry counterparts, including Google and Twitter, to oppose a new Australian law that would allow law enforcement to bypass the technology industry’s encryption capabilities in cases of only the most severe threats to national security, including terror threats. Apple’s opposition to the narrow legislation tailored to terror threats follows its months-long lobbying campaign that suggested, in no uncertain terms, that it will not give any ground or compromise for the public good. An industry spokeswoman said, “Any kind of attempt by interception agencies … to create tools to weaken encryption is a huge risk to our digital security.” Australia’s law comes on the heels of the U.K.’s own legislation to close the loopholes big technology is trying to keep open under the guise of user “privacy” and “security.”
“Three years ago, Apple refused a U.S. District Magistrate’s order to unlock an iPhone used by San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook who, along with his wife Tashfeen Malik, killed nearly 15 Americans and injured more than 20 others,” said Counter Extremism Project Executive Director David Ibsen. “The implications of Apple’s actions then and now expose the technology industry’s hypocrisy. That is, the industry is open to flagrantly violating users’ privacy to sell data and grow its bottom line, but fails to cooperate with authorities and provide them with the necessary information to ensure public safety and security. Elected officials in Australia and the U.K. have an obligation to promulgate legislation that help protect their citizens. Lawmakers should be commended for taking measures to curb the harmful consequences caused by the tech industry.”
Encryption capabilities are near-universal in the electronic devices ubiquitous to our day-to-day lives and are, of course, necessary to secure sensitive activities such as banking transactions. Still, encryption can also pose a challenge to public safety. Not only are terrorists experts in exploiting encryption to evade law enforcement’s detection, but they are also aware of big tech’s history of refusing to assist governments even during times of escalating national security threats.
CEP Chief Executive Officer Mark D. Wallace has written about the Islamic State’s practice of ranking applications by their level of security, and about the evidence pointing to ISIS’ successful use of encryption and security to enable the massacre of 130 innocent individuals in the 2015 Paris attacks. CEP has also noted Apple’s track record of obstruction or inaction during national security efforts here in the U.S., in particular in the case of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook.