news Global privacy organisation Privacy International has filed a formal complaint with Australia’s Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security over a report that the Australian Signals Directorate had offered to hand over data on Australian citizens to foreign intelligence agencies.
In an associated move, the Australian Privacy Foundation has also backed calls for a wide-ranging inquiry into Australia’s surveillance activities, as well as the restructure of the Australian Signals Directorate.
On Monday The Guardian published documents sourced from NSW whistleblower Snowden which purported to show that the ASD, Australia’s peak electronic intelligence agency, had offered to share detailed information collected about ordinary Australian citizens with its major intelligence partners.
Subsequently, QC and human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson published an opinionated article arguing that the ASD had broken the law in offering the data to Australia’s international partners. The news has also created outrage in Australia’s digital rights community, with organisations such as the Greens, Electronic Frontiers Australia and the Pirate Party Australia calling for a full-scale parliamentary inquiry into surveillance practices.
In a statement released overnight, Privacy International noted that it had filed a complaint with the Australian Inspector-General of Intelligence Security, calling for an immediate investigation into what it described as “deeply troubling reports that the Australian intelligence services offered to violate the privacy rights of millions of citizens by handing over bulk metadata to its Five Eye partners”. The Five Eyes network refers to Australia, the US, the UK, New Zealand and Canada.
Carly Nyst, Head of International Advocacy said at Privacy International said: “The offer by ASD to secretly handover bulk data on Australians to be mined and analysed at will by their intelligence partners is one of the clearest signs yet that the members of the shadowy Five Eyes alliance consider themselves ultimately answerable to no-one but themselves.”
“By operating in secret, the Australian government has moved from being endowed with defending fundamental rights to seeing them as insignificant. Secret agreements such as these need to be scrutinised in the light of day to ensure they are adequately protecting the rights of Australian citizens. The Inspector-General must now open an investigation to establish to what extent ASD has compromised the rights of Australians in favour of serving their Five Eyes masters, and conduct a comprehensive and frank review in order to restore credibility to the government’s claims that they have Australians’ best interests at heart.”
Delimiter has contacted the office of the Inspector-General multiple times over the past several days to invite comment on the issue, but no comment has of yet been forthcoming.
Privacy International said it was “plainly obvious” that the ASD was violating its own rules to protect the privacy of Australians, as well as the Intelligence Services Act 2001, which prescribes that “an agency must not undertake any activity unless the activity is necessary for the proper performance of is functions; or authorised or required by or under another Act.”
With the launch of Privacy International’s “Eyes Wide Open” campaign last week, the organisation filed numerous Freedom of Information requests in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, seeking to obtain information on the Five Eyes arrangement.
“In almost record fashion”, Australia immediately refused to turn over any information regarding the alliance, Privacy International aid. “Given the latest reports, Privacy International in its complaint to the Inspector-General urged the office to obtain and publish documents related to the Five Eyes Arrangement.”
Separately, the Australian Privacy Foundation has also expressed its disappointment with regard to the ASD allegations.
In a statement and background paper issued overnight (PDF), the APF called for “a substantial, independent review of surveillance activities”, “visible action” on the issue by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, the Human Rights Commissioner, and the Australian Information and Privacy Commissioners and the creation of “meaningful controls” over Australia’s national security agencies.
The APF also called for the removal of the civilian security advisory group from ASD, and conversion of ASD into a controlled military and national security Signals Intelligence Agency.
“A great many signs point to the need to have a full and open inquiry in order to establish how we got into this mess, and what can be done to get the behaviour of intelligence agencies back under democratic control,” wrote APF chair Roger Clarke in the statement.
The news comes as the Australian Labor Party has given the first tentative sign that it may be open to working with the Greens on the terms of a wide-reaching parliamentary inquiry into electronic surveillance practices in Australia.