(HRW)  The Australian government should not force technology companies to weaken the security of their products or to subvert encryption, Human Rights Watch said last week in a letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. That strategy would undermine cybersecurity for all users and would not stop determined criminals from using encryption.

On July 14, 2017, Turnbull announced new legislation to require device manufacturers and internet companies to provide appropriate assistance to intelligence and law enforcement agencies to access encrypted communications. Turnbull, along with Attorney General George Brandis and the acting commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Michael Phelan, stated that encryption was thwarting the governments ability to monitor and investigate serious crime.

Governments are obliged to investigate and prosecute serious crimes, but any policy response should not do more harm than good, and needs to be effective, said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Turnbulls proposal may fail on both counts and could undermine cybersecurity and human rights worldwide.

Governments have many ways to sharpen investigatory capability without undercutting the security of ordinary users, Human Rights Watch said. They could invest in modernizing investigation techniques and increasing resources and training in tools already at their disposal, consistent with human rights requirements. Any limitations encryption poses to police capabilities are greatly offset by the explosion of new kinds of investigatory material enabled by the digital world, including location information and vast stores of metadata that are not encrypted.

The Australian government previously proposed a coordinated approach to encryption at a June 26 meeting of the Five Eyes intelligence partnership, which also includes the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand, and the July 5 G20 summit. The prime minister provided few new det...