Australia wields vast decryption powers before planned review

Updated 08 February 2019
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Australia wields vast decryption powers before planned review

CANBERRA: Australian security agencies have begun using sweeping new powers to access encrypted communications, even before a promised review to address concerns from the likes of Google, Apple and Facebook.
The powers were granted under a new decryption law which was rushed through parliament in December amid fierce debate, and was seen as the latest salvo between governments and tech firms over national security and privacy.
Two months later, the Australian Federal Police have revealed that agents have already used it while investigating drug trafficking and child exploitation.
Under the fresh rules, refusal to grant authorities access to devices is punishable with up to 10 years in prison, and police told a parliamentary inquiry they had used that threat to compel two suspects to hand over their passwords.
Citing secrecy provisions in the law, police declined to say if they had used the new law to force device makers or telecommunications firms — including global giants like Apple — to break or bypass encrypted communications.
The same provisions bar industry from disclosing whether they have received such police demands, known as “compulsory notices.”
The government has argued the law was urgently needed to foil ongoing terrorist plots and intercept communications among other serious criminals.
But opponents allege it punches a hole in global efforts to keep governments from eavesdropping on secure communications, like WhatsApp chats.
They also argue it could undermine security by creating vulnerabilities in encryption technologies, which could then be exploited by malicious actors.

‘Enormous threat’
The legislation was adopted only after the conservative government agreed to reopen debate in the new year on amendments that would address widespread concerns among civil liberties advocates and tech industry experts that it was ill-conceived and too broad.
The Department of Home Affairs says the law is being progressively implemented and that in January it wrote to tech industry members for assistance in drawing up guidelines on how to use the new powers.
“The Department is also engaging with industry to dispel common misconception, build confidence and to reiterate the intended purpose and operation of the Act,” it said in a submission to the parliamentary inquiry.
But the tech industry appears far from reassured.
“There is no doubt there is an extremely broad coalition of stakeholders that are very concerned about the impact of this bill,” said John Stanton, chief executive of the Communications Alliance, which represents the Australian communications industry.
“It is not just industry, it is civil society and digital rights activists (too).”
Stanton warned the new law posed “an enormous threat” to export opportunities for Australian tech firms “because they can no longer provide any assurance that their gear hasn’t been tampered with by Australian security.”
“Even to say, ‘no, it hasn’t’, is an offense” under the law,” he added.
Industry groups have combined forces to present a joint submission to the latest inquiry proposing a series of amendments.
These include a higher threshold for using the law, which can currently be applied in any investigation of an offense carrying a maximum three-year jail term — a bar critics say is too low.
The industry also wants more precision about an element of the law barring authorities from forcing companies to introduce a “system vulnerability” into their products — a term they say is ambiguous.
Australia is widely seen as a global test case for such laws, with possible applications by other governments seeking to counter the growing use of encrypted messaging, notably Australia’s partners in the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance — the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.
The ongoing review of these powers by parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security may have set an Australian political record.
It was launched just nine days after the encryption legislation became law and reflects the haste with which it was rammed through.
The committee must complete its review by April 3, but any moves to then amend the legislation risk running up against the Australian electoral cycle, with a federal election due by mid-May.


FBI eyes Deutsche Bank after money-laundering report

Updated 20 June 2019
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FBI eyes Deutsche Bank after money-laundering report

  • Questioned money transfers allegedly made by the Kushner Cos. to Russian individuals in 2016
  • Banks are required to report certain suspicious transactions to the Treasury Department, but have discretion over what triggers a report

NEW YORK: The FBI has reached out to a lawyer for a former Deutsche Bank employee who complained that the bank was ignoring suspicious transactions, including some involving Jared Kushner’s family real estate company.
The former Deutsche Bank anti-money laundering specialist, Tammy McFadden, told The New York Times in May that she had recommended that the bank alert the Treasury Department to a series of money transfers from the Kushner Cos. to Russian individuals in 2016, but the bank decided against it.
McFadden’s lawyer, Brian McCafferty, told the Times in a story published Wednesday that he was recently contacted by the FBI about his client.
Deutsche Bank declined to comment on the Times story, other than to say it will cooperate with any “authorized investigations.”
Kushner Cos. released a statement saying “any allegations regarding Deutsche Bank’s relationship with Kushner Companies which involved money laundering is completely made up and totally false.”
McCafferty did not respond to messages left by The Associated Press.
Banks are required to report certain suspicious transactions to the Treasury Department, but have discretion over what triggers a report. Transactions are typically vetted at several levels at banks and many are ultimately not sent to Treasury. Financial institutions reported more than 2 million suspicious transactions last year. Most such reports don’t lead to a criminal case.
In a report in the Times in May, McFadden criticized the bank’s practices, saying it had a pattern of rejecting proposed suspicious activity reports involving prized clients.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, was CEO of Kushner Cos before the election, but stepped down afterward to become one of Trump’s senior advisers.
The Times in May also reported, citing anonymous former and current bank employees, that several transactions involving President Donald Trump’s company were flagged at the bank as suspicious but were not passed on to the Treasury Department.
The Trump Organization did not respond to email and text messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Two congressional committees have subpoenaed Deutsche Bank documents as part their investigations into President Donald Trump and his company. Deutsche Bank has been one for the few banks willing to lend to Trump after a series of corporate bankruptcies and defaults starting in the early 90s.
Trump had sued Deutsche Bank to stop the subpoenas, but a judge in May ruled against the president.