Crypto: Australia flunks Apple’s math test

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“The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.” — Prime Minister Malcom Trumbull

 

From “Did Australia Poke a Hole in Your Phone’s Security?” in Wednesday’s New York Times.

A new law in Australia gives law enforcement authorities the power to compel tech-industry giants like Apple to create tools that would circumvent the encryption built into their products.

The law, the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018, applies only to tech products used or sold in Australia. But its impact could be global: If Apple were to build a so-called back door for iPhones sold in Australia, the authorities in other countries, including the United States, could force the company to use that same tool to assist their investigations…

The law says the Australian authorities cannot ask a company to build universal decryption capabilities or introduce systemwide weaknesses. But security experts and tech companies like Apple said that did not reflect what they would have to do to comply with an order…

Apple officials called the law “dangerously ambiguous” and “alarming.”

“Encryption is simply math,” Apple wrote in a statement submitted to the Australian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on Oct. 12. “Any process that weakens the mathematical models that protect user data for anyone will by extension weaken the protections for everyone.”

But politicians said the risk of encryption technology’s being used by terrorists was too significant. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia said in July, “The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.”

My take: Malcom Turnbull is the King Canute of strong cryptography.

See also: Apple and the FBI Are Playing With Fire