Ludlam suspects Govt of bugging his iPhone


news Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has publicly stated that he suspects law enforcement agencies of bugging his mobile phone, despite admitting that he doesn’t have a shred of evidence that such action might be taking place, and despite the fact that he has not had his mobile phone examined for bugging software.

In a radio interview with 6PR this morning (the full audio recording is available online here), Ludlam, who is the Greens Communications Spokesperson, said he first became suspicious that his phone had been bugged during the past week, part of which he has spent at several events with independent computer security researcher and hacker Jacob Appelbaum, an associate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Appelbaum and Ludlam spoke extensively at an event in Melbourne on Saturday about the dangers of increasing levels of covert government surveillance on Australian residents. Today, Ludlam said at one point when he was with Appelbaum he noticed that “the battery on my phone was draining very fast”. Appelbaum’s view on the matter, he said, was that it could be a symptom that the phone was being wiretapped. Ludlam uses an iPhone, several models of which have recently suffered battery draining technical issues unrelated to wiretapping.

Ludlam emphasised that he had “nothing” to back up the idea that the phone was being tapped. “I wouldn’t even dignify it with the term evidence … it’s entirely circumstantial.” he said. “It was something I was whingeing to Jacob about, and he said: ‘You know what that can mean’.” In addition, he stated that he hadn’t “made any accusations” about the Government tapping his phone.

However, in the same interview Ludlam said it was “concerning” that “simply by being in the company of Jacob or people associated with Wikileaks that my phone might then have been wiretapped”. In addition, he noted that “it seemed interesting to note that there is no reason that we would be immune” from wiretapping, referring to himself and the organisers of the Melbourne event.

“I went through the same sort of psychology as most people,” he told the 6PR host. “Your first reaction is look, well I’m not interesting enough, I’m too boring to spy on, so I’m not worried about this. The second stage is saying, well maybe I am being spied on, but I’m not doing anything wrong, so it still doesn’t bother me, and the third stage is no, bugger that, we do deserve privacy, we have a right to privacy, and it’s not appropriate for, in my view, as many as a quarter of a million of these data access requests being made every year, with nobody having the foggiest as to what they’re for.” Ludlam was referring to telecommunications surveillance statistics recently published by local law enforcement agencies.

Ludlam linked the issue to a Sydney Morning Herald article published several weeks ago which revealed that the Federal Resources and Energy Minister, Martin Ferguson, had secretly pushed for increased surveillance by police of environmental activists who had been protesting peacefully at coal-fired power stations and coal export facilities, with some of the work being carried out by a private contractor, the National Open Source Intelligence Centre (NOSIC). If these kinds of activists could be spied on, he said, ” why not a Greens MP?”

The Senator noted he would be following up the issue with Australia’s Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, which oversees Australia’s intelligence agencies.

I am extremely surprised to find the normally level-headed Senator Scott Ludlam engaging here in what I feel I have no choice to describe as conspiracy theories.

Frankly, as the Senator has openly admitted, he has not a shred of evidence that his phone has been bugged. I consider it irresponsible of Ludlam to raise the issue in public without first finding that evidence, if indeed any exists. I would also consider it irresponsible of him, and potentially an abuse of his parliamentary position, for him to contact the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security about the matter, without first finding that evidence.

Now, I think it’s important to note here that I personally am highly suspicious of surveillance efforts by Australian law enforcement agencies, and I have personally made great efforts to bring these efforts to light. For example, I have been one of the main Australian journalists reporting over the past few years on the Attorney-General’s Department’s data retention proposal, which would dramatically expand police powers to retain Internet users’ data. In fact, I filed a Freedom of Information request with the department this week on the issue.

Likewise, I have consistently published information on other government censorship and control measures, such as various Internet filtering proposals and secret meetings about online copyright infringement. So I am not unsympathetic to Ludlam and Appelbaum’s views — far from it. I am not the Australian Federal Police’s favourite journalist and I’m probably on a list of rabble-rousers who would be first against the wall if the Attorney-General’s Department got their way ;)

However, I listened to the whole ‘War on the Internet’ event held by Ludlam and Electronic Frontiers Australia (the videos are available here), and I must note that I found much of the event to be chock-full of the sort of conspiracy theories which any rational journalist must feel uncomfortable listening to. The entire event had a more than blasé’ relationship with the facts, and I believe Ludlam’s suspicions this week about his phone being tapped are the fruit of spending too much time in the company of people like Jacob Appelbaum, who are visibly attempting to construct a narrative around inappropriate surveillance based on what, at least in Australia, is very thin evidence. I’m sure things are different in the US.

TL;DR: Show us the evidence, Senator Ludlam, or else stop discussing the matter in public.

Image credit: Still taken from EFA video broadcast of the War on the Internet event


  1. If I suspected my phone was being bugged I would do something about it other than discuss it on radio talk shows to honest, like, I don’t know, get a new phone. There is paranoia, and then there is stupid paranoia.

  2. To add to the conspiracy theory, DSD (spy agency) where at linuxconf apparently to recruit. Senator Ludlam was there on Friday, so DSD certainly had the chance to coincidentally get close to him.

    Also, i dont know why a spy agency thought open source people would be people who want to be part of closed and secretive organisation, but they paid their sponsorship so whatever.

    I do note that their wifi appeared on my ipod on the sunday before the conference started (DSD-TRUCK43 iirc).

    • I would consider it perfectly normal behaviour for DSD to attend — they need high-level IT skills and that’s a very good event to find them at. Same reason you see security agencies at major security industry events such as AusCERT.

      The fact that they were noticed being there, and the fact that they had a fracking Wi-Fi network, of all things, should indicate that they weren’t there spying on Greens Senators.

      • Renai, i know your smart enough to see a conflict between the principles of open source and those of a spy agency.

        • *shrugs*

          People have got to work somewhere, and if it does its work right and ethically, DSD would be a good place to work. If you believe in the concept of modern democracies (which I personally am unsure about), then spy agencies, defence forces, internal police forces and more are needed for the proper functioning of society. We don’t tend to praise these groups in the 99% of times when they do their job properly and ethically — they really only come to the public’s attention in the 1% of cases when they do things wrong.

          My difficulty with Australian politicians at the moment is that they tend to do their job unethically some 95% of the time, and ethically 5%. Like some of the commenters here, I will note that I have lost some respect for Ludlam over this. I think his ratio, which was 100% ethical and 0% non-ethical, has now sunk to probably 95% ethical and 5% unethical, or similar. I still largely trust and respect him, but now I realise that he’s also a politician.

          • By saying DSD and open source have conflicting values doesnt mean one is ethical and the other unethical.

            So for example, the slogan DSD was using at the international conference was “protecting our own”, yet i strongly suggest most people at the conference arent driven by nationalistic motives. Open source programmers tend to want to do the right thing for all of society, not as concerned about personal gain as proprietary developers. “Protecting our own” isnt something RMS would say, its not something I would he had in mind when creating the GPL.

            Im sure Ludlam will take a hit for this, but even if he does, hes still the most knowledgeable (only) techies there, and i guess its inevitable if you want to question those sorts of agencies who do everything in secret, then people are going to think your imagining things.

          • True re your DSD comments.

            Re Ludlam, I had a feeling something like this was going to happen when I listened to the War on the Internet recording earlier this week. He seemed out of place at the event — too rational to be around such blatant conspiracy theorists. The event as a whole had a sour feel about it. It made me, a staunch watcher of the watchers, uncomfortable, and that’s saying something.

          • If you aren’t paranoid, you don’t really belong in the IT industry. That holds for programmers, sys-admins, managers and investors. Good systems are not built out of trust, they are built out of systematic distrust. Always question your assumptions.

          • Erk! I would argue that the whole principle of modern democracy is that it is supposed to alleviate the need for secret police, because it is OK to discuss things out in the open.

            If the thugs and jackboots really are necessary, then modern democracy has failed and we are heading back either towards central planning and socialism or perhaps feudalism, depending on who gets the upper hand.

          • I wouldn’t say modern democracy has failed, and in fact the power of the Internet is bringing us increasingly closer these days to true participatory democracy, which the Westminster parliamentary system definitely ain’t.

  3. and just like that my respect for senator ludlam has dropped back to what it was before i first heard of him.
    that is, it’s non-existent.

    • So I gather you don’t spend a lot of time checking out the mps that are standing up for your online freedom, eh Bill?

      • i don’t go out of my way to find out what any politician has to say
        unless it happens to be something that either interests me or i agree with.

        if it’s important to me it will pop up on the various websites i visit.

        case in point – ludlam was first brought to my attention by delimiter, despite me being fremantle born and bred.

        i’ve generally found him to have similar views to me and/or to be concerned about the same things and while i would not at all be surprised to find out that his phone had been tapped (based on his comments relating to wikileaks etc) it does not sit well with me that a politician would just throw such topics about without first having at least investigated the matter privately through official channels or otherwise.

        not doing so makes his position on government surveillance of protesters or other types of activists and any statements he makes against them irrelevant.

        it reeks of sensationalism.

        • @looktall: it reeks of sensationalism.

          It does, but I would not lay the sensationalism at Ludlam’s feet this time. I was there – he made a passing comment about his phones battery – a few words at most in a 15 minute talk. He didn’t lay the cause at anyone’s feet at the time. I thought it was more of an in joke to one of the few audiences that would appreciate it.

          The people who then picked up on those few words and sensationalised them were the media. It looks like they built up the story by asking him leading questions to which he gave heavily qualified answers. And as Renai shows by example here, they wrote up those questions and answers in the way likely to generate the most page hits. It’s par for the course I guess – such is the dance between politicians and the press. I guess both sides are used to it. They wouldn’t play it if it didn’t work for both.

          As for event being “chock-full of the sort of conspiracy theories” – I’d like to hear a few listed to back up that assertion. They certainly painted a different view of the world to what we are used to hearing. It was one of governments taking increasing advantage of the opportunity the comms revolution presents to help law enforcement, to the point that now every NBN POI will contain a LEA (law enforcement agency) rack which should enable them to see every bit every Australia sends, without having to ask or pay an ISP or Telco do to it, as then do now. I didn’t see anyone deny there are perfectly good reasons to do this. The solution Jacob and others repeatedly gave wasn’t to stop it – all he were asked for in the end was more transparency. Basic information, like how many taps does ASIO get on its own citizens each year would be a good start. It’s not a radical idea. After all software Jacob is famous for, TOR, was instigated by the US Navy to promote more transparency. The situation as it stands in Australia for information about intelligence gathering can be neatly summed up by a quote I heard at the the conference – the police only give away information when it makes for a good press release.

          To me, it is hypocritical of a person like yourself who actively promotes his web blog by listing his unsuccessful FOI requests to label a group asking for increased transparency as “conspiracy theorists”.

          Worse, I suspect one of the things you are labelling a conspiracy are the comments made at the event on Julian Assange, if only because Julian’s current plight occupied a good portion of the invited talks.

          It must be painfully obvious to you of all people the political parties spend most of their time trying to manipulate and direct the political discussion. The party in government has an extra weapon in that effort – they get to control the information released. Julian’s only “crime” is that he threatened that control by publishing information they would rather not have published. The word crime is in inverted comma’s because our Attorney General has said he had broken no Australian laws, and the mass media organisations that did publish the information in the UK and the US – such as The Guardian and the New York Times have not been prosecuted. If looking at the Julian’s and Wikileaks current situation with deep suspicion is a conspiracy – well then most of Australian’s must be conspiracy theorists, both support for him is running at around 53%.

          In the end, what I am expressing is disappointment at the tone of your article. What hope have we got of shifting public opinion on the issue, when person like yourself who stands to gain more than most out of having a more transparent system paint the people pushing hardest for it as nutters.

          • hey Russell,

            thanks for your comment. It’s appreciated.

            Firstly, you’re right, the comments made at the WOTI event about Ludlam’s phone battery were in passing. I heard them at the time when I was listening in and didn’t think anything of them, which is why I didn’t report them.

            And you’re also right that the media (primarily, so far, Crikey and Fairfax) has been amplifying Ludlam’s comments.

            However, I believe Ludlam is using the personal issue of a Senator’s phone potentially being tapped to get media coverage to raise the much wider issue of societal surveillance.

            This is pretty clear if you listen to the full 6PR audio, which my article here is based on, and which is available online here ( It is my opinion that Ludlam is playing a game of denying he’s accusing anyone of doing anything, and then seguing straight into insinuations that he was afraid he was being tapped.

            I’ve seen this game played a thousand times by politicians and I know it well. I haven’t seen Ludlam play it before, and I think he will come to regret doing so. What he is doing seems calculated to me — he’s using the media to get what he wants. The difference, perhaps, between Delimiter and more mainstream outlets, is that it’s harder to get me to do what you want ;)

            With respect to the WOTI event and conspiracy theories, the speeches given by Ludlam and Bernard Keane were fairly solid and brought up current events without creating conspiracy theories about them. In addition, Appelbaum’s speech itself wasn’t too much of a problem.

            But the speech given by Suelette Dreyfuss was … a bit out there. I didn’t write down much from her speech in my reporting notes, because I didn’t feel the comments were useful. And this vibe was amplified dramatically during the Q&A time in the event, when I felt that Appelbaum, and even Ludlam at times, were out on a limb about what they were saying. It’s not that what they were saying wasn’t true to some extent, but there were a stack of exaggerations in there, and characterisation of events that are quite far outside the generally acceptable discourse about surveillance, censorship and the Internet etc.

            Bear in mind that I am personally also outside the mainstream when it comes to these issues. My personal politics are strongly libertarian socialist. And I try to hold the government to account whenever I can. I don’t trust big corporations, etc etc. So you know, when someone like me feels nervous about these kind of statements, the rest of the population is going to feel that this stuff is way ‘out there’.

            If Ludlam had brought some of the stuff being said at WOTI into parliament, he would get laughed off. I think him, Appelbaum and Suelette probably thought they were preaching to the converted and so let their hair down a little.

            I don’t have any really concrete examples, as I didn’t write down in my notes stuff that didn’t seem to have enough grounding to use in my articles. But if you watch the Q&A again you can see it in action.

            As for Assange … I, like many people, like what Wikileaks is doing. But there is a sanctimoniousness (is that even a word??) around Assange, a holier than thou approach which rubs people the wrong way. That organisation needs a more humble leader, and it will go far. But right now it is having problems, because he is the sort of person who pushes his message too strongly and alienates people.

            Wow … posted an epic reply myself ;)



          • @Renai LeMay: It is my opinion that Ludlam is playing a game of denying he’s accusing anyone of doing anything, and then seguing straight into insinuations that he was afraid he was being tapped.

            Having listened to it, it’s hard to disagree he was gilding the lily to get media coverage.

            @Renai LeMay: the speech given by Suelette Dreyfuss was … a bit out there

            I watched it again at At worst I thought she stated what was common knowledge in a overly dramatic way, however I am not a good one to judge as I am familiar with the debate. But not all her points were common knowledge. The one about the taps going up by roughly 20% per year, and the governments own report listing a reason along the lines of “they are easier to get the in an electronic age” was new to me. Since it is roughly what I would expect to happen as the price of one form of evidence collection drops relative to the others, I didn’t think it was “out there”.

            @Renai LeMay: that are quite far outside the generally acceptable discourse about surveillance, censorship and the Internet etc.

            There is a generally accepted discourse we must all stick to? Maybe you mean Appelbaum doesn’t share the majorities view of Facebook. This is hardly surprising, as Appelbaum looks to value his privacy highly. Do you think he should be condemned and ignored because he values his privacy more than most? Did you notice that despite his personal views on Facebook, he didn’t argue for any regulatory controls or changes on social networking sites? He only argued for one change – increased transparency on government surveillance. Yet it seems you are choosing not to pass judgement on what he is calling for, but rather are evaluating the man on his personal like/dislike of Facebook.

            @Renai LeMay: But there is a sanctimoniousness (is that even a word??) around Assange, a holier than thou approach which rubs people the wrong way.

            Agreed. But where are you going with this? The debate over Assange wasn’t about whether he could do a better job running Wikileaks, or even whether he is a great bloke. It is whether the Australian Government should speak publicly in support of a citizen who as far as we know has broken no law. Are you ignoring this, or are you saying he doesn’t deserve such support because he is a loudmouth who has rubbed our international friends up the wrong way? For what it is worth, in 2011 our politicians apparently thought convicted drug couriers jailed in other foreign jails were worthy of their countries support. Assange on the other hand wasn’t.

  4. If “they” are going to eavesdrop on your communications then all they have to do is add a filter for packets to/from your phone’s network address on the carrier’s network. All carriers have government-mandated interception capabilities on their networks – it’s a condition of having a telco license.

    Ludlam speaks a lot of sense, but like you say he is a politician and a Greens pollie at that. We’ve all heard his kooky views on nuclear energy before so I don’t know why you say you now have a diminished opinion of him over something as trivial as this.

  5. This is extraordinary for Ludlam. He must have known such a bizarre circumstantial theory would be met with ridicule (and rightly so).

    Kids: This is why you shouldn’t smoke too much of your party’s own product before speaking to the media.

  6. @Russell Stuart

    hi Russell,

    FYI I have deleted some comments (including some of my own) from this thread, as the debate was getting poisonous and impolite, which is against Delimiter’s comments policy. I apologise for this, but reading over the posts I deleted, in them you were often attacking me personally and often not directly responding to the issues I had raised. I should have curtailed this sooner. I am passionate about the issues raised at WoTI and like to see them debated openly.

    However, you did raise one solid point: What evidence do I have that there were conspiracy theories being espoused at the WoTI event?

    I watched the event again today, and these are some of my issues with it:

    1. The issue of surveillance/wiretapping. Several panellists raised the issue that Australian State and Federal Governments were increasing their use of this technology. Raising this issue, in itself, is fine. However, Suelette selectively picked only one reason why the authorities had said that increase was occuring, didn’t mention other reasons they had listed, and then characterised that reason as “because we can”, which I think was a mischaracterisation.

    None of the panellists went into any other reasons why the use of this technology might be increasing (one reason I can see is that it might be very effective in stopping serious crime, or that police knowledge of what they can and can’t do has increased). And not a single piece of information was presented about what the surveillance was being used for. The panellists just jumped straight to the idea that because its use was increasing, that use might be illegitimate and would likely breach people’s privacy.

    In short, they only looked at one side of the story, based on extremely limited information.

    Sure, information about what the surveillance is being used for is really hard to get. But that doesn’t mean we need to jump straight to the idea that it’s being used illegitimately. If it is being used illegitimately, this sort of thing often comes out in government audit reports, Freedom of Information requests or even government corruption watchdogs.

    2. Suelette asked the audience whether anyone there was from law enforcement, and then linked the fact that nobody put up their hand to the idea of covert surveillance of democratic assemblies .. which “belongs in the Stazi of East Germany”. I found this a very long bow to draw.

    3. Suelette raised the idea of the military trying to control the Internet. To my knowledge, this hasn’t happened in Australia, and recent Internet issues in the US have not been linked to the Internet — in fact they’ve been linked to private sector organisations such as the content industry.

    4. During the Q&A, there was discussion of political parties maintaining enormous databases of voters who they target during campaigns, but no evidence presented that these databases had been used in either unethical or illegal ways. Even Ludlam discussed the issue, somewhat ironically given the Greens’ own databases.

    5. Random other stuff by other panellists. “Telstra’s selling handsets by a company which was best mates with Colonel Gaddafi”? Re: the Megaupload case in New Zealand, “it’s weird that the Americans are able to control the police there” … re actually illegal groups on the Internet such as terrorists, “there are more cops that commit abuses against regular citizens on a daily basis [than dangerous people on the Internet”.

    Now, there were many solid and grounded points raised at the event, particularly by Ludlam; I’ve chronicled some here:

    But there was also stuff raised which was ‘out there’. To my mind, I would have liked the event to have more concretely discussed current issues and less ‘big picture’ accusations suffering from a lack of detail. As a journalist, I specialise in detail ;)



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