Sneaky way terrorists, criminals communicate
Every time you use Apple's iMessage, WhatsApp or Wickr to text your friends and family, every word you send is hidden via encryption.
Police and counter-terrorism officials say that exact encryption is letting everyone from terrorists to paedophiles to various criminals plan horror attacks right under their eyes.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton again called for federal parliament to pass new laws allowing police to access encrypted messages.
"The technology now has got ahead of where the law is and we are finding ourselves in a particular black spot where the police are blind to the telecommunications across these messaging apps," Mr Dutton told reporters.
The Home Affairs minister said he has been in touch with ASIO and AFP officials, who claim "something like nine in ten of their high profile terrorism cases are being hampered because of encrypted messages".
Even something as little as a four-digit passcode on your iPhone could be stopping police, AFP commissioner Andrew Colvin admitted.
"Sometimes a simple passcode on a phone is all it takes to thwart police from accessing evidence that might save lives," he said.
Earlier today, three Melbourne men - Hanifi Halis, 21, and brothers Ertunc Eriklioglu, 30 and Samed Eriklioglu, 26 - were charged with allegedly plotting to carry out a terrorism attack in a "crowded area" of the city.
The three men, who were being monitored by the Joint Counter Terrorism team since March, allegedly became "energised" in the past week, leaving police no choice but to swoop in.
Police allege the accused were using encrypted communications, admitting the technology "presented significant challenges".
"We believe we had enough evidence to act. We were sort of investigating it. We didn't have a precise time and a precise location," Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton told reporters.
"This group were using these encrypted communications to deal with each other so that made...to be able to be precise about when and where more difficult. We did make a decision to act as soon as we had enough evidence."
Police allege the men were attempting to buy a semiautomatic rifle leading up to their arrest.
Mr Dutton applauded the counter-terrorism team for pulling off the complex investigation but admitted they would've pulled off their alleged attack if they kept their plans limited to encrypted communication.
"I have absolutely nothing but praise for the work that the officers have done again in relation to this matter," Mr Dutton said.
"But if they were relying on the exchange of information over their smart devices, that wouldn't have foiled this attack, this attempted terrorist incident. This is a very serious issue. And we need to be very honest about it."
In June, Australia's former cyber security minister Angus Taylor said law enforcement were already battling to find different ways to watch some of the nation's biggest terrorism threats.
Around 95 per cent of ASIO's most threatening targets communicate almost exclusively via encrypted messages.
"Few issues have vexed law-enforcement ... more than this one," Mr Taylor said, addressing the encryption problem in June.
"They can't get access to the data they need to stop crime and hold criminals to account."
Counter-terrorism agents have foiled 15 attempted attacks since 2014. Four of the disrupted plots have been described as "major".
Mr Dutton described the ease at which criminals and potential terrorists could communicate as an "unacceptable risk".
"The criminals, the terrorists, the paedophiles are using encrypted messaging apps because they know the police can't view them," he said. "That's an unacceptable risk in this environment."
Since arresting and charging the three Melbourne men this morning, agents have seized all of their electronic devices.
"We will try and get behind some of that sort of encrypted evidence...That's underway at the moment," Chief Commissioner Ashton said.
Experts say criminals are flying under the radar by using Apple's iMessage, WhatsApp and Wickr, an app that allows users to set a self-destruct time on messages.
The government proposed the Assistance and Access Bill in August, which they say will allow them to keep up with the technology criminals are using.