Tech giants like Apple and Facebook could be penalised for not cooperating with security agencies tracking terror suspects and criminals.
The government has unveiled new laws that include the power to force companies to disclose encrypted information on devices such as phones, computers and social media platforms.
“If we don’t do this we’ll be giving criminals a place to hide,” Cyber Security Minister Angus Taylor told Sky News on Tuesday.
“Whether it’s paedophiles, terrorists or drug dealers, it is absolutely crucial now that this legislation go into place.”
In the past year, 200 crime-fighting operations had been hampered by limitations resulting from laws which were “no longer fit for purpose”, Mr Taylor said.
“We’re not asking (companies) to break their encryption systems but there are lots of ways we can get access to data we need for investigations.”
More than 90 per cent of data lawfully intercepted by the Australian Federal Police now uses some form of encryption.
Technology companies and civil libertarians have warned the changes could weaken privacy protections.
But Mr Taylor said the new legislation would “expressly prevent the weakening of encryption”, and would not include “back doors” to give security agencies easy access to data.
“I am committed to maintaining the integrity of Australians’ personal information, devices and communications,” he said.