This would see apps like WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage forced to hand over the contents of users’ private messages in certain situations.
Current encryption standards used by the likes of WhatsApp mean that only the sender and intended recipient of messages are able to view the contents, so that anyone who intercepts the messages en route is unable to read them.
A technology journalist asked Turnbull at a press conference whether encryption would solve the problem of criminals. This question is especially relevant in light of the fact that platform providers say they are not currently able to break into the messages, even when asked to by lawmakers.
However Australian Attorney General George Brandis said the UK security agency GCHQ has assured him it is possible to unlock encrypted systems.
“Well the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that,” said Turnbull.
“The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.
“I’m not a cryptographer, but what we are seeking to do is to secure their assistance. They have to face up to their responsibility. They can’t just wash their hands of it and say it’s got nothing to do with them.”
Turnbull said that he wanted tech companies to work with the Government to change their current systems.
“I am not going to get into hypotheticals. The important thing is to recognise the challenge and call on the companies for assistance,” he said.
“I am sure they know morally they should. Morally they should.
“They have to face up to their responsibility. They can’t just wash their hands of it and say it’s got nothing to do with us.
”However the move is part of a worldwide ongoing debate over encryption, with many tech companies responding that it’s not possible to give access to governments without giving access to would-be attackers at the same time.
In a statement, Facebook said: “We appreciate the important work law enforcement does, and we understand the need to carry out investigations. That’s why we already have a protocol in place to respond to any requests we can.
“At the same time, weakening encrypted systems for them would mean weakening it for everyone.”
Turnbull has said the move is based on controversial UK legislation, the Investigatory Powers Act – known among its critics as the Snoopers’ Charter.