news The loose knit group of Internet activists known as ‘Anonymous’ over the weekend published some 3.5 gigabytes of data sourced from Australian telco AAPT, in protest against a wide-ranging package of surveillance and data retention reforms currently proposed by the Federal Government.
In a statement which appeared to be by Anonymous and posted on a site dedicated to information releases by the organisation, the group pointed out that AAPT was a member of the Infrastructure Assurance Advisory Group for the Critical Infrastructure Protection branch of the Attorney-General’s Department, which is promulgating the surveillance reforms.
“In the past few years the rise of censorship and filtration of freedom of speech has been on the rise,” Anonymous wrote. “Our very own governments surveying the very same people who voted and put you, the government, in a position of power and trust. Australia, you have failed us! Now expect us!”
“Australia ranks highly in many international comparisons of national performance, such as quality of life, health, education, economic freedom, and the protection of civil liberties and political rights. Yet Australia feels the need to censor and filter every day social and personal life? What are you afraid of? Who or what are you protecting?”
The group wrote that it felt “disgusted” by the decision to pursue the surveillance reforms, and would not “sit around” as it had “big brother” watching the population. “Anonymous is taking a stand and will fight for the unjust!” it wrote. “We decided to give you a taste of your own medicine … A total of 40 giga bites has been obtained using the very same techniques used on the Australian population. We as people have the right to protest in any way shape or form to get our voices heard. Let this be the first warning!” Anonymous has also published an Internet video detailing its statement.
The actual data appeared to have been originally posted on Internet site Pastebin, which acts as a repository for various forms of Internet data, but appears to have since been taken down. However, it has also been published on the http://par-anoia.net site. It appears to consist of a number of internal files from AAPT ranging from internal employee details and policies to some customer details.
It’s not the first time Anonymous’ activities have hit Australian interests. In early 2010, for example, Anonymous several times targeted Federal Government websites and other communications systems in protest against Labor’s mandatory internet filtering initiative. And the group has also held physical protests against the filter.
The surveillance reforms
The reforms which Anonymous is protesting consist of a package of new legislation which would see a number of wide-ranging changes made to make it easier for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to monitor what Australians are doing on the Internet.
For example, the Government is interested in establishing an offence which would allow Australians to be charged with failing to assist in decrypting encrypted communications. Also on the cards is a data retention protocol which would require ISPs, for example, to retain data on their customers for up to two years, and changes which would empower agencies to source data on users’ activities on social networking sites.
Instead of law enforcement agencies being forced to request multiple different types of interception warrants, the legislation would be modified to allow authorities to request a new more comprehensive centralised type of warrant with multiple powers. Provisions under the ASIO Act for the intelligence agency to request warrants are to be modernised and streamlined, and the agency is to gain the power to disrupt a target computer for the purposes of accessing the information on it — or even to access other third-party computers on the way to the target machine.
On July 9 this year, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is to examine the proposed reforms, noted it had consented to commence an inquiry into the package, and is currently requesting submissions from the public into the package.
Digital rights lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia has described the Federal Government’s proposed new surveillance and data retention powers as being akin to those applied in restrictive countries such as China and Iran, as the group and others have renewed calls for an inquiry into the powers to have its timeframe extended.
Speaking on ABC television several weeks ago, EFA executive office Jon Lawrence said what the package amounted to was “a massive increasine in surveillance powers, with a corresponding decrease in accountability”. “What we’re seeing here is the sort of powers that probably fit better in a place like China or Iran,” he said. Both China and Iran are noted for being countries where citizens’ activities on the Internet and other communications channels are strictly controlled and monitored, especially in areas where citizens have the capacity to express dissent against the countries’ ruling governments.
As embarrassing as the hack is for AAPT, it doesn’t appear from early reports as if the data released by Anonymous was that crucial or embarrassing for the company. If Anonymous were to hack the Attorney-General’s Department, for example, or another important Government target, it would be another case altogether. That sort of thing would be highly embarrassing for the Federal Government. My view on the hacks is that they are relatively juvenile and will be largely ignored by the powers that be — until they start getting access to the really sensitive stuff. At that point, Big Brother may indeed start to pay attention.
As I’ve written previously in general, while the antics of Anonymous can often be quite amusing, it’s hard to support this kind of behaviour in this instance. The Federal Government’s surveillance and data retention reform proposal may be a highly concerning package, but that doesn’t mean we should break the law to oppose it; Anonymous’ actions will likely only strengthen the case for the package to be passed by Federal Parliament.
In opposing this kind of draconian Internet monitoring and control legislation, rational words and reason should be enough; after all, that’s what has seen Labor’s mandatory filter package largely knocked back. There’s no reason that the same approach can’t be taken with the current package of surveillance legislation being proposed at the moment.