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The Australian Assistance and Access Act

December 13, 2018 by Jeff

Australia has a new law called the Assistance and Access Act. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has recently posted an informational article about the law. The full implications of this new law are not yet clear to anyone. Perhaps it will ultimately have no effect at all on Underpass. However, one possible consequence of the Assistance and Access Act is that the Australian government may demand that all encrypted chat apps install a back door to allow official surveillance. I've not yet received any such demand, and I'm not expecting one in the foreseeable future, but in any case I want to state my position for the record: There is no back door in Underpass, and there never will be. I pledge to never compromise the privacy or security of Underpass.

I am a United States citizen, not subject to Australia's jurisdiction, so Australia lacks the authority to compel me to install a back door. My app Underpass is currently available for sale in the Australia region of the Mac App Store and the iOS App Store, and I have no current plans to remove it from sale in Australia, but if for some reason the Assistance and Access Act becomes an issue for Underpass, and the Australian government demands a back door in the app, then I would remove Underpass from sale in the Australia region. Rest assured that even if I removed Underpass from sale, previous purchasers of the app would be able to continue to use the app with full, uncompromised security. Your purchased copy of the app is yours forever.

Unlike most chat apps, Underpass is peer-to-peer. There is no third-party chat service between the two chat participants. This peer-to-peer design is of great benefit in situations such as the introduction of the Assistance and Access Act, because third-party chat services are precisely where back doors could be installed. When you use a third-party chat service, you're at the mercy of that service. They could install a back door on their servers, and you might never know. With Underpass, all of the app's code is on your device. Your device is the chat server. Thus, nobody can secretly install a back door. Most chat services would be faced with the dilemma of installing a back door on their servers or shutting down service entirely in Australia. Since Underpass is peer-to-peer, it would not face this dilemma. The version of Underpass that you've already installed can't ever be shut down, not by a government, not even by me. I intentionally designed it so that I can't shut it down. Control over the app is entirely in the hands of the customers.

Thank you for your support.

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