Australia gets “deluge” of data from PRISM,
claims Fairfax



blog For those of you wondering just how much access the Australian Government has access to from the US Government’s controversial PRISM spying program (you know, the one which allows the National Security Agency access into the servers of US-based technology giants such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and so on)? Wonder no more. According to The Age, it’s bucketloads — enough that the Government has had to build a new datacentre to contain it. The newspaper reports (we highly recommend you click here for the full article):

“Australian intelligence agencies are receiving “huge volumes” of “immensely valuable” information from the United States including through the controversial PRISM program, Fairfax Media can reveal. The “data deluge” has required the Australian government to build a state-of-the-art secret data storage facility just outside Canberra.”

The news has prompted Greens Communications Spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, to accuse the Australian Government of being “actively complicit” in the US’ surveillance of Australian citizens through their own email and social network accounts. Ludlam tells us in a media release issued late last night:

“The Australian Government has denied any knowledge of the NSA’s widespread online surveillance of people around the world since it was revealed by Edward Snowden. It is now clear that the ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ routine is a sham,” Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam said. “The Australian Government was aware of the spying, and collaborating to circumvent due process through receipt of vast amounts of surveillance material from the United States.”

“Next week I will move an Order for the production of documents in the Senate to finally get some disclosure from our Government. This will be a test for the opposition as well; it is essential they support this motion. “On 7 June I put a series of questions to the Attorney General on Australian involvement in PRISM.”

“While the National Security Inquiry looks at the Government’s proposed data retention scheme, the Government is already up to its neck in spying on the communications of law-abiding Australian citizens.”Next week I am introducing a Bill into the Senate to strengthen regulation of data collection on Australians, returning normal warrant procedures to law enforcement agencies accessing peoples’ private communications data.

“But while the Greens fight hard to defend people’s privacy and civil liberties from increasingly audacious Australian Government agencies, the Government leaves the nation wide open to spying by the United States. The Government must reveal the extent of its complicity in this unprecedented intrusion.”

Personally, I can’t say I’m surprised by the fact that the US is conducting extensive spying activities on Australians and funnelling that information back across the Pacific. It’s precisely what you would expect the two intelligence communities to do. But the audacity of the whole situation is a little crazy. Nobody expects their private data to be common knowledge within intelligence communities around the globe. And there should be much stricter controls on this kind of access than, it appears, there is right now.

Image credit: Robert Linder, royalty free


  1. If you are suggesting that there is a swap of information obtained by a foreign country’s intelligence service on Australian citizens for information obtained by Australian intelligence services on the foreign country’s citizens I have to consider that you are possibly right.

    One of the problems with the intelligence services is that the information that they manage to provide is not really that intelligent. eg weapons of mass destruction etc. What we need is for the secret intelligence services and the law enforcement service to be given a reality pill and a very strong reminder that they exist to serve their citizens and are not permitted to just do their own thing. At the moment they don’t seem to understand this concept.

    While I would like to see Ludlum shake up the “law enforcement agencies” I can’t see it happening. It wont happen without some enthusiastic head kicking and insistence on cultural change within the organisations. Regrettably Ludlum doesn’t have that power.

    • In my dream world, the Greens would form a coalition with one of the other major parties, as we see in some European countries, and a domain expert like Ludlam would be given perhaps secondary oversight of the Attorney-General’s portfolio as a junior attorney-general/minister under a more senior politician. This would be an ideal situation where he would have the power to root out the more serious issues and take them to the big guns for addressing.

      Of course this will never happen … in the meantime we get to watch the good Senator asking AGD portfolio bureaucrats tough questions in Estimates every six months. Watching them squirm is perhaps the most satisfaction we’re going to get right now.

  2. And I was worried that US customs could see my spent conviction re visa. (I’ve since been granted one).
    Seems I should have been worried they had my email history, web history and phone logs.

    Governments seem to have forgotten long ago that they are OUR representatives.

    Instead they act like a multinational corporation above normal scrutiny.

  3. Hi all the stuff about HMAS Harman DNOC (Defence Networks Operations Centre) is nothing but FUD.

    Yes they have and extended large facility there including data centre and comms centre but that the nature of key centre in the DoD network. Yes its a key facility and handles most of Defences network activities. Strangely, thats what it was built for.
    Of course it carries sensitive level comms traffic as many Defences sites also do.

    Its certainly not a DSD or PRISM site

    Defence has many data centres (many just server rooms) and its been trying to reduce this number down to 6-10 or so. Again this is well known information

  4. This is disgusting.

    An obscene and unnecessary amount of data to keep.

    Since they insist on doing it new laws need to be introduced to protect Australians.

    I’ll reiterate my idea that all politicians need to be fitted with 24/7 voice recorders with GPS. Uploaded on an hourly basis. If they have nothing to hide they have nothing to fear.

  5. Hmmm … wait until we discover that robotic killer drones are being automatically dispatched based on analysis of Twitter traffic … and blogs like this one … huh … what’s that noise … OMG!!!

  6. We spy for the Americans, they spy for us. Same deal in NZ.

    You have to remember that calls for “stronger control” is actually the antithesis of expected outcome. Moral panic is partly why we’re here, combined with a lack of understanding that the Internet is pretty much a lawless zone.

    PRISIM simply taps into the ‘hose’ and is currently (of that we know) one of the smarter systems. It’s unlikely to be the only one.

    People have become comfortable, indeed dependant on a system that was effectively a DARPA project to get a bunch of disparate military systems connected. People forget that it’s never really been “our” internet. It’s “the” internet.

    And “the” internet shouldn’t full of controls and constraints. Demands for the government of the day to fix only empowers and emboldens them to do just that. Just not in the way Joe Public wants.

    We know what happens elsewhere when governments have control; it’s never, ever good. Understanding what the internet represents is time better spent. Understanding privacy and that that is an oxymoron with respect to the internet is also time better spent.

    Being informed and aware is a hell of a lot better than moral panic and control.

    • Hi Brendan, I agree!

      Did you see the Lateline interview last night with Kim DotCom in NZ? He made the point that we need to understand the Internet as the same as a road. It is just transport infrastructure. We know that roads are used by criminals to carry stolen goods and to do all sorts of bad things but this doesn’t mean that the right thing for the Government to do is to set up road blocks at every intersection or to monitor the reasons for all journeys. Neither is it reasonable to blame the roadway operator for the fact that some drivers conduct criminal or immoral activity, nor to hold them accountable for monitoring or policing the behaviour of all road users … even if there are strong ‘anti-road’ interest groups advocating this. The outcome would be both damaging to the economy and unacceptable to the vast majority of peaceful law abiding road users. The police should focus on the criminal behaviour and the perpetrators … not the owner of the road.

      This is a bit simplistic … but it is a useful analogy. The Internet is just infrastructure. Caveat Emptor.

      The twist, I suppose, is that Kim DotCom’s newest business is, a.k.a. “The Privacy Company”, which enables fully encrypted cloud storage. Hmmm … so this is like a road where once you enter you become invisible? Or maybe a road that lets you drive uniform cars with one-way-mirror windows and no registration plates?

      • I can’t really comment on cloud and privacy and encryption.

        Other than to note that the Internet is built on a foundation of systems sharing information. This means you need to, shock, think about whether the data is sensitive, and at what point you can accept it being compromised.

        There is a great deal of innocence regarding a system that has been around long enough for people now to not know it’s inception; and what that meant regarding data.

        If you presume there is privacy, that encryption can allow near-perfect anonymity and privacy — you are mistaken.

        Here’s the thing. Your data wants to be free. It wants to be in the hands of everyone. No matter what that data is. If you surmise and assume this in all actions, you’re in a better place.

        • Yes … fair enough. The issue is really all about ‘practical privacy’. Given all of the trade-offs involved (knowing that even high security in-house ICT environments can be cracked) … and knowing the constraints of an organization’s funding, skills, process discipline etc. what is an appropriate practical degree of privacy for the data in question?

  7. Did you see the bald eagle monument in front of the Department of Defence the last time you went to Canberra?

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