Thwarting the encryption of terrorist messaging is priority number one between the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance.
The alliance, which comprises of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, will meet in the Canadian capital of Ottawa on Tuesday.
Attorney General George Brandis and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton will attend.
“As Australia’s priority issue, I will raise the need to address ongoing challenges posed by terrorists and criminals using encryption,” Senator Brandis said in a joint statement with Mr Dutton.
“These discussions will focus on the need to cooperate with service providers to ensure reasonable assistance is provided to law enforcement and security agencies.”
A real problem’
Peter Jennings, Executive Director of the Australian Strategic and Policy Institute, says keeping up with the rapidly evolving technologies related to cyber security is proving “a real problem” for international agencies, including Australia.
“It used to be the case with the old telecommunication companies that there was quite close collaboration between intelligence agencies and those telcos. But with the arrival of a whole range of secure messaging apps that are encrypted and really cannot be broken,” Mr Jennings told SBS World News.
“The challenge for the Five Eyes countries is ‘how do we sort of legally and legitimately access that information to deal with what everyone agrees is a fairly substantial global terrorist threat.”
Dr Robyn Torok from Edith Cowan University explains that the so-called Islamic State has been using encryption to register attack, particularly during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
“There’s been a process that they’ve developed within the encryption itself to register an attack before it occurs, and then once a person registers that attack then Islamic State proponents, recruiters, can communicate directly to them, to either get video support or to encourage what (weapons) to use,” Dr Torok explained.
“This encrypted element is very difficult for law enforcement and agencies to keep track of.”
Security vs Privacy
Peter Jennings said a major concern for agencies is balancing security and privacy concerns.
“There is no common approach,” he said.
“At the moment each of the five countries are developing separate strategies. They’re at different levels of development in terms of their thinking, and I think the idea of this meeting, which is a good one, is to try to get some sort of shared approach which these five countries can develop together.
“We’re in an undeveloped field, there’s a lot of work that’s really got to be done and done quite quickly to ensure that these new forms of encrypted communication apps can be accessed when necessary.”
Dr Torok believes security needs must win out over any other concerns.
“Law enforcement and police absolutely, unequivocally, need access to the encryption forum,” she told SBS World News.
“What we need to understand as a community is that while privacy for the everyday good citizen is absolutely fantastic, there needs to be a balance between security and privacy, and in the end the community’s safety needs to win out.”
Minister Dutton said he will engage with other ‘Five Eyes’ countries on issues related to border security.
“I look forward to discussing with my counterparts the growing challenges we all face from increasing cross-border movements of people and goods, and the importance of strengthening our intelligence exchanges and operational collaboration,” Mr Dutton said in the joint statement.