Few limits to what Australian intelligence would share

The contempt that Australian intelligence organisations have for Australian citizens has been exposed, following revelations that the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) boasted in 2008 that it can share “bulk, unselected, un-minimised metadata” with several of its international counterparts[1]. Notes from a meeting at the UK’s GCHQ Headquarters in Cheltenham were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and show that Australia was keen to share data, regardless of privacy concerns and whether it was intentionally collected. The DSD has since been renamed to the Australian Signals Directorate.

“The threat that indiscriminate collection of metadata poses should never be underestimated,” commented Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “Metadata amounts to digital footprints, capable of tracking your movements and interactions. It can be used to build comprehensive profiles of personal networks and habits. This sort of surveillance makes every Australian a potential suspect.”

In addition, the parties to the meeting — representatives from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States — discussed how electronic spying has made it possible to collect “medical, legal and religious, or restricted business information, which may be regarded as an intrusion of privacy.” This is in violation of international and common law.

Pirate Party Australia opposes intrusive surveillance that indiscriminately invades the privacy of individuals and violates the security of their personal information. The Party supports initiatives to increase oversight and protections for privacy, and is critical of blanket surveillance that targets Australian citizens. It also promotes protections for whistleblowers.

“The continuous revelations about the state of global intelligence show a concerted effort to forge an intelligence regime designed to collect the personal details of as many people as possible, including Australians,” Mr Frew continued. “Everything from religious opinions and medical records to private business information is being treated as fair game for intelligence agencies that are part of the ‘5-Eyes’ organisation. Plans are being made with no consultation with citizens of any of these countries.

“This amounts to an attack on Australian democracy being launched by an agency tasked to defend it.”

Human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson QC, claims that the DSD’s proposal would be a breach of sections 8 and 12 of the Intelligence Services Act 2001[2]. Canadian delegates excluded the possibility of sharing bulk metadata, citing Canadian privacy laws, but the DSD offered no such hesitation. Under section 8 of the Act, Robertson says, if data “has been collected unintentionally it must be destroyed.”

“Pirate Party Australia demands the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security immediately investigates this dragnet invasion of Australians’ privacy being advocated by what is now the Australian Signals Directorate. The refusal to comment on intelligence matters by both major parties is not good enough. Their silence confirms bipartisan support for the destruction of privacy in this country, a right that is vital for a free and democratic society,” Mr Frew concluded.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/02/revealed-australian-spy-agency-offered-to-share-data-about-ordinary-citizens
[2] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/02/privacy-australians-surveillance-metadata