Turnbull: ‘The Internet cannot be an ungoverned space’

Encryption to be key focus of ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence meeting

“Terrorists and extremists” cannot be allowed to use the Internet and major social media and messaging platforms to “spread their poison,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the Liberal Party’s 59th Federal Council over the weekend.

“When we talk about the rule of law, we have to recognise that there can be no ungoverned spaces,” Turnbull said. “Ungoverned spaces pose great risks.”

“The Internet cannot be an ungoverned space,” the prime minister told the meeting.

Turnbull’s rhetoric echoed that of British Prime Minister Theresa May, who earlier this month called for increased regulation of Internet services in the wake of terror attacks in London. Pro-terrorist ideology must be denied the “safe space it needs to breed”, May said.

“We need to work with allied, democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorist planning,” the British PM said in early June.

The Australian government has said that encrypted messaging services such as WhatsApp can be used to coordinate terrorist actions due to their opacity to law enforcement. The Coalition has indicated that it will look for some kind of legislative solution to give security agencies increased visibility over such services, though it has denied it wants companies to be compelled to implement “backdoors”.

“This is not about creating or exploiting back doors, as some privacy advocates continue to say, despite constant reassurance from us,” Turnbull said previously. “It is about collaboration with and assistance from industry in the pursuit of public safety.”

Turnbull told the Federal Council meeting that dealing with the challenge of encrypted services would be a key subject addressed at an Ottawa meeting this week of the ‘Five Eyes’ — the intelligence collaboration between Australia, Canada, the UK, the US and New Zealand — as well as at the upcoming G20 meeting.

The use by terrorists of “cyberspace” is “an issue of critical concern to intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” Attorney-General George Brandis said ahead of the meeting in Canada.

“Australia will lead the discussion of ways to address this issue; in particular the involvement of industry in thwarting the encryption of terrorist messaging,” Brandis said.

“As Australia’s priority issue, I will raise the need to address ongoing challenges posed by terrorists and criminals using encryption,” the attorney-general said.

“These discussions will focus on the need to cooperate with service providers to ensure reasonable assistance is provided to law enforcement and security agencies.”

Labor leader Bill Shorten has indicated the opposition would be likely to support a government push for greater Internet regulation.

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