Apple Assails Australian Anti-Encryption Bill As ‘Dangerously Ambiguous’

Apple iPhone
Apple has a history of butting heads with government officials over the topic of encryption, and specifically whether the Cupertino outfit should be forced to install a backdoor into its iOS devices primarily for law enforcement to use. It's not just the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that Apple disagrees with, though. Apple is taking the Australian government to task over a "dangerously ambiguous" bill that deals with encryption.

Australia's draft Access and Assistance Bill grants authority to certain agencies "to secure critical assistance from the communications industry and enable law enforcement to effectively investigate serious crimes in the digital era."

The bill seeks to establish frameworks for the telecommunications industry at large, both in Australia and abroad, and also all of the technology players that provides hardware, software, or services for telecommunications. That includes component suppliers, wireless carriers, and of course companies like Apple that sell iPhone devices.

Apple's issue with the bill is that it's too broad and could potentially put the privacy of iPhone owners at risk.

"The devices you carry not only contain personal emails, health information and photos but are also conduits to corporations, infrastructure and other critical services. Vital infrastructure—like power grids and transportation hubs—become more vulnerable when individual devices get hacked. Criminals and terrorists who want to infiltrate systems and disrupt sensitigve networks may start their attacks by accessing just one person's smartphone," Apple stated in a letter to the Australian parliament.

"In the face of these threats, this is no time to weaken encryption," Apple added.

Apple also challenged the notion that weakening encryption schemes is necessary to help law enforcement investigate crimes.. The company points out that it works with the Australian government and other law enforcement agencies around the world, and has processed 26,000 requests from Australian law enforcement agencies in the past five years alone.

"While we are pleased that some of the suggestions incorporated improve the legislation, the unfortunate fact is that the draft legislation remains dangerously ambiguous with respect to encryption and security. We encourage the government to stand by their stated intention not to weaken encryption or compel providers to build systemic weaknesses into their products," Apple wrote.

Apple avoided a legal showdown with the FBI over encryption when it refused to crack an iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters a couple of years ago. That's because the FBI was ultimately able to unlock the phone itself, with the help of a separate third-party firm, and subsequently dropped its lawsuit. It remains to be seen if Apple will hold firm once again if and when Australia's controversial bill is passed into law.