Australian government to ask for voluntary access to encrypted Apple data

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Australia's attorney general will reportedly meet with officials from Apple later this week in a bid to gain voluntary sharing of encrypted data with the country's spy and law enforcement agencies.

While voluntary assistance is preferable, the Australian government is still working on legislation that will give it "coercive power," Attorney-General George Brandis told Sky News.

"It's not good enough frankly for anyone to hide behind the fact that there is a new technology that enables these communication to be encrypted, to say I'm sorry we're not prepared to cooperate with you," he argued.

Apple is unlikely to provide any voluntary data beyond what it already shares with government agencies when served with a legal request, such as email and photos stored on iCloud accounts. Services such as iMessage use end-to-end encryption, meaning that by definition, only the sender and the recipient have keys — Apple would have to rewrite its software to provide useful content.

Likewise, the company has famously resisted building any deliberate backdoors into the full-disk encryption on iOS devices, claiming that doing so would just weaken product security and expose its customers to attacks and unwarranted surveillance.

By November Australia's ruling party will propose legislation requiring companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google to hand over communications data when presented with a court order, in the same way as telecoms firms. Brandis has suggested that the law can be enforced without backdoors, but that may difficult or impossible given the growing prevalance of end-to-end encryption.