Australian bid to force tech firms to hand over encrypted data passes first hurdle

SYDNEY (REUTERS) – The Australian Parliament’s Lower House passed a Bill to force tech firms such as Alphabet’s Google, Facebook and Apple to give police access to encrypted data on Thursday (Dec 6), pushing it closer to becoming a precedent-setting law.

However, the proposal, staunchly opposed by the tech giants because Australia is seen as a test case as other nations explore similar rules, faces a sterner test in the Upper House Senate, where privacy and information security concerns are sticking points.

The Bill provides for fines of up to A$10 million (S$9.9 million) for institutions and prison terms for individuals for failing to hand over data linked to suspected illegal activities.

Earlier in the week, it appeared set to secure enough support from both major political parties, with some amendments, to secure passage. However, the main opposition Labor party said on Thursday the Bill could undermine data security and jeopardise future information sharing with United States authorities.

“A range of stakeholders have said there is a real risk that the new powers could make Australians less safe… (by) weakening the encryption that protects national infrastructure,” Labor’s Mark Dreyfus told Parliament.

The proposed laws could also scupper cooperation with US authorities because they lack sufficient privacy safeguards, Mr Dreyfus said. Labor voted the Bill through the Lower House but was still negotiating with the government on the issue and would debate it in the Senate, he said.

Thursday was the last parliamentary sitting day of the year until a truncated session in February, meaning the impasse could delay the laws for months.

The government has said the proposed laws are needed to counter militant attacks and organised crime, and that security agencies would need to seek warrants to access personal data.

“I will fight to get those encryption laws passed,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra after Mr Dreyfus spoke. “I want to see our police have the powers they need to stop terrorists.”

Technology companies have strongly opposed efforts to create what they see as a back door to users’ data, a stand-off that was propelled into the public arena by Apple’s refusal to unlock an iPhone used by an attacker in a 2015 shooting in California.

Representatives of Google, Amazon and Apple did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Apple has said in a public submission to lawmakers access to encrypted data would necessitate weakening the encryption and increase the risk of hacking.

A Facebook spokesman directed Reuters to a statement made by the Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI), of which Facebook as well as Apple, Google, Amazon and Twitter, are members.

“This legislation is out of step with surveillance and privacy legislation in Europe and other countries that have strong national security concerns,” the DIGI statement said.

“Several critical issues remain unaddressed in this legislation, most significantly the prospect of introducing systemic weaknesses that could put Australians’ data security at risk,” it said.

If the Bill becomes law, Australia would be one of the first nations to impose broad access requirements on technology companies, although others, particularly so-called Five Eyes countries, are poised to follow.

The Five Eyes intelligence network, comprising the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, have each repeatedly warned that national security was at risk because the authorities were unable to monitor the communications of suspects.

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New York Today: We Like Big. Are Google and Amazon Too Big?

Living and working in New York have ingrained in most of us a certain laissez-faire attitude to things big and grand. The transit system with more stations than anywhere else in the world … yet not enough. The most populated school system … yet we don’t always have enough seats for every student. The most celebrated pizza in the country … and yet we continue to try new styles.

This week, New York appeared on the verge of landing a few more big things. Two of the tech industry’s giants signaled an interest in expanding here, potentially bringing a combined 45,000 employees to Manhattan, where Google already has an office, and Queens, where Amazon is considering locating a headquarters.

First, a caveat: No deals have been completed, so we don’t know how many people these companies will employ in New York. Google has 7,000 employees in Chelsea, and that number could double if it moves into 1.3 million square feet of office space in the West Village. Amazon could bring up to 25,000 employees to Long Island City.

Tom Angotti, professor emeritus of urban planning at Hunter College, said he could not recall a period when New York planned to absorb so many workers from a single employer, let alone two.

“Expansions tend to occur incrementally,” he said.

These tech giants will undoubtedly help reshape the city. New York can handle big. But is this too big? Probably not. New York will be fine. If that seems a little nonchalant, it’s a well-earned attitude.

“It’s a lot, but it’s not a lot for New York’s overall economy,” Nicole Gelinas, an analyst at the Manhattan Institute, said.

New York City gained 71,900 jobs from September 2016 to September 2017, according to the New York State Department of Labor. Many cities wouldn’t be able to absorb that many jobs. But New York can.

And remember, we’re talking about a possible maximum of 45,000 jobs. “We shouldn’t be dismissive of this number,” Gelinas said. “But it’s not going to save us or break us either way.”

Here’s what else is happening:

Weather

Leave the suede shoes at home and take an umbrella to work. Showers are possible after 4 p.m. Expect a high of 52.

🎶The sun will come out tomorrow. 🎶Eventually.

In the News

The Nassau County district attorney, Madeline Singas, announced that criminal charges would not be filed against former Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who was accused of assaulting and abusing four women. [New York Times]

Mayor Bill de Blasio is having a rejuvenation after Democrats took both houses in Albany, prompting him to press for agendas that were stymied in the past. [New York Times]

A sweeping retrospective shows the personal side of Andy Warhol — his hopes, fears, faith — at the Whitney Museum in a reassertion of his power for a new generation. [New York Times]

Attention passengers: Subway conductors will have new and informative lines to announce to riders that will appeal to your attention. [New York Times]

Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey signed legislation to outlaw homemade and 3-D-printed guns after the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, Calif. [NJ.com]

You may have seen the fliers around the city. Now, the people behind the #WhyIDidntReport campaign have opened up a gallery-style pop-up. [am New York]

The duck saga continues. It has returned. [New York Post]

Coming Up Today

An evening of jazz at the Lighthouse at Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn. 7 p.m. [$42]

A screening of the film “Infinite Football,” about a Romanian soccer player’s quest to make the sport safer, at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. 7:30 p.m. [$15]

See a performance of “The Education of Al Capone as if Told by Jimmy Durante,” at Coney Island U.S.A. in Coney Island, Brooklyn. 8 p.m. [$30]

An evening of Korean percussion music at Flushing Town Hall in Queens. 8 p.m. [$16]

Devils at Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. (MSG+). Rangers at Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. (MSG).

Alternate-side parking remains in effect until Monday.

Weekend travel hassles: Check subway disruptions and a list of street closings.

Saturday

GingerBread Lane is back. Take a look at the homemade houses at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. [$16]

Ahead of Veterans Day, take a military history tour of the Battle of Brooklyn and visit the grave sites of fallen soldiers beginning at the Evergreens Cemetery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. 11 a.m. [Free] …

… Or take a tour focused on the gentrification and development of Downtown Brooklyn beginning at Jay Street and Myrtle Avenue. Noon. [$10]

Visit the exhibition “Transfer Queen,” a collection of poems and illustrations about men on the subway, at Wayfarers in Bushwick, Brooklyn. 1 to 5 p.m. [Free]

Rangers at Blue Jackets, 7 p.m. (MSG). Islanders at Panthers, (MSG+).

Sunday

Bring your pumpkins and jack-o'-lanterns and smash them into compost at the Pumpkin Smash at Corlears Hook Park in Lower Manhattan. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. [Free]

Firecrackers, sweets, dancing and clay light painting are part of the Diwali celebration at the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens. 1 to 4 p.m. [$8]

A discussion with the author of “To Honor Fallen Heroes: How a Small, German-American Village in New York City Experienced the Great War,” about the more than 650 men from College Point, Queens, who served in World War I, at the Queens Historical Society in Flushing. 2:30 p.m. [$5]

Get a look inside artists’ studios at Red Hook Open Studios. At various locations. 1 to 6 p.m. [Free]

Devils at Jets, 7 p.m. (MSG+).

For more events, see The New York Times’s Arts & Entertainment guide.

Metropolitan Diary

My First Dead Body

Dear Diary:

It was 1979, and I was driving a Checker cab. I picked up a fare at La Guardia Airport. He was a heavyset man who appeared to be in his 50s.

He was flushed and smelled of alcohol. In an angry voice, he gave me detailed directions to his apartment in Manhattan.

Halfway there, bouncing along on the B.Q.E., I noticed that he was slumped over in the back seat. Ten minutes later, I pulled up to his building. He didn’t move.

“We’re here,” I said, loudly.

Nothing.

I got out of the cab, opened the door and tapped the man. No response. Then I shook him. Nothing.

I quickly drove to a hospital, parked and ran in. A few people were hanging around, and for a moment I wondered if there was a line. Then I yelled that I had a dead passenger in my cab.

Within seconds, he was on a gurney, and from there into the emergency room, where a doctor ripped his shirt open.

A police officer arrived, asked me some questions and walked away.

When he came back, he said the guy hadn’t made it, and that I could go. He handed me a $10 bill. He said the guy had it in his hand. The fare was $8.25. I thanked him.

An orderly asked if I was doing O.K. I said I was. Then he asked me out. I declined, but thanked him as well.

I drove the cab back to the garage in Long Island City, noting the death on my trip sheet.

The dispatcher, sitting in the office behind bulletproof glass, bored and tired, looked at my note.

He shrugged, said, “O.K.” and counted my cash. It was 4 a.m.

— Eric Smith

And Finally …

Hi everyone, it’s Alexandra and Jonathan.

Almost three years ago, when we took the helm of New York Today, we told you of our resolutions to walk every city street from east to west and to trek every avenue from top to bottom.

More than 700 columns later, thanks to you — with your ideas, loyalty, feedback and encouragement — we’ve seen New York City through the most special lens there is.

(Infinite lenses, actually.)

We’ve reported on happenings at City Hall, corruption in Albany and how the chaos in Washington very deeply affects our home. We’ve covered the transit turmoil, the cases in our courts and the breaking news that drives each day.

But we’ve realized that the stories that resonate just as much as policy and politics are those about the resilience and kindness of people in our community.

Through our annual New Yorkers of the Year columns, we’ve met hundreds of neighbors — teachers, violinists, actors, firefighters, survivors, refugees, immigrants and citizens — who have made a difference here, in ways big and small. We’ve learned from New Yorkers over the age of 100, some who are no longer with us, about what it means to be engaged in this city, and how to do it.

And we’ve also come to understand, in a place as intense as this one, the importance of stories that make you smile, laugh or feel something. (Like “hair forecasts” on rainy days. Or disputes over what makes a New York bagel. Or reviews of public restrooms. Or why New Yorkers do, indeed, wear so much black. Or why the best place to be for the holidays is alone in our great city.)

So thank you for reading us as you rolled out of bed, for letting us join you for your morning cup of joe, for using us as a distraction when you were stuck on the subway, and above all, for believing in the power and beauty of local journalism.

We hope you’ll continue to do the same with our talented new columnist, Azi Paybarah, who officially takes over this column on Monday.

We’ll miss you, but we’re not saying goodbye: You can follow us on Twitter at @jonathan_wolfe and @Ali_Lev, and on Instagram, @alexandra.levine.

All our best,

Alexandra and Jonathan

New York Today is a morning roundup that is published weekdays at 6 a.m. If you don’t get it in your inbox already, you can sign up to receive it by email here.

What would you like to see here to start your day? Post a comment, email us at [email protected], or reach us via Twitter using #NYToday.

You can find the latest New York Today at nytoday.com.

New York Today is published weekdays at 6 a.m. Sign up here to get it by email. You can also find it at nytoday.com.

We’re experimenting with the format of New York Today. What would you like to see more (or less) of? Post a comment or email us: [email protected].

Alexandra S. Levine, a Metro reporter, writes the New York Today column. She joined The Times in 2015. @Ali_Lev

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Google hears protesters, changes sexual harassment policies

(Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Thursday it would make changes to how it handles sexual harassment claims, a week after thousands of its employees around the world walked off their jobs to protest its response to such issues.

Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai announced a detailed “action plan”, which included making arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims.

“Going forward, we will provide more transparency on how we handle concerns,” Pichai said in a note here addressed to employees.

Pichai also said Google will provide more details around sexual harassment investigations and outcomes, as well as improving processes used to handle such concerns, including the ability for its employees to be accompanied by a support person.

Google said employees will now be required to undergo sexual harassment training annually, instead of every two years currently.

“We will update and expand our mandatory sexual harassment training,” Pichai said.

The company also said it would publicly release its harassment, discrimination and retaliation policies.

The protests at Google earlier this month followed a New York Times report that the company in 2014 gave a $90 million exit package to a senior vice president, Andy Rubin, after he was accused of sexual harassment.

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