Microsoft President Brad Smith

Computing giant Microsoft says Australia’s reputation as a globally-renowned safe place for companies to store data is under threat because of its new encryption laws.

In December last year, legislation was passed to allow security agencies and police involved in investigations to force technology companies to decrypt messages sent using their platforms.

Labor has flagged it would amend the laws, if elected, to address issues including privacy and security.

Microsoft president Brad Smith told a business lunch in Canberra on Wednesday while the laws had not changed the way his company operated to date, there were some ongoing worries.

“The big concern you hear most often is that it would create a backdoor to undermine technology in a fundamentally important way,” he told the CEDA event.

“We are among those who will worry because we do feel it remains vitally important that we protect our customers’ privacy.”

He said Australia had emerged in recent years as a “comfortable” place for companies and governments to store their data and this had generated many jobs and attracted big investment from companies such as Microsoft.

“When I travel to other countries I hear companies and governments say ‘We are no longer comfortable putting our data in Australia’,” he said.

“So they are asking us to build more data centres in other countries and we will have to sort through those issues.

“If I were in Australia and I really wanted to continue to advance the Australian technology economy, I would want to address that and put the minds of other like-minded governments at ease.”

Labor technology spokesman Ed Husic told a forum in Sydney the laws were hurting Australian tech companies and should be rewritten, based on the findings of a bipartisan inquiry.

“You are seeing people are saying these laws are putting a choke-hold on local tech,” he said.

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