LET US SPY ON AUSSIES

Se­cret push for sweep­ing new home se­cu­rity pow­ers

The Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - ANNIKA SMETHURST

TWO pow­er­ful gov­ern­ment agen­cies are dis­cussing rad­i­cal new es­pi­onage pow­ers that would see Aus­tralia’s cy­ber spy agency mon­i­tor Aus­tralian cit­i­zens for the first time.

Un­der the plan, emails, bank records and text mes­sages of Aus­tralians could be se­cretly ac­cessed by dig­i­tal spies with­out a trace, pro­vided the de­fence and home af­fairs min­is­ters ap­proved.

The power grab is de­tailed in top se­cret let­ters be­tween the heads of the de­part­ments of home af­fairs and de­fence.

TWO pow­er­ful gov­ern­ment agen­cies are dis­cussing rad­i­cal new es­pi­onage pow­ers that would see Aus­tralia’s cy­ber spy agency mon­i­tor Aus­tralian cit­i­zens for the first time.

Un­der the plan, emails, bank records and text mes­sages of Aus­tralians could be se­cretly ac­cessed by dig­i­tal spies with­out a trace, pro­vided the De­fence and Home Af­fairs min­is­ters ap­proved.

The power grab is de­tailed in top se­cret let­ters be­tween the heads of the Depart­ment of Home Af­fairs and Depart­ment of De­fence which out­line pro­posed new pow­ers for Aus­tralia’s elec­tronic spy agency — the Aus­tralian Sig­nals Direc­torate (ASD).

The Sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment of Home Af­fairs Mike Pezzullo first wrote to the De­fence Sec­re­tary Greg Mo­ri­arty in Fe­bru­ary out­lin­ing the plan to po­ten­tially al­low gov­ern­ment hack­ers to “proac­tively dis­rupt and covertly re­move” on­shore cy­ber threats by “hack­ing into crit­i­cal in­fras­truc­ture”.

Un­der cur­rent laws the ASD — whose mis­sion state­ment is “Re­veal Their Se­crets — Pro­tect Our Own” — must not con­duct an ac­tiv­ity to pro­duce in­tel­li­gence on an Aus­tralian.

In­stead, the Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice and do­mes­tic spy agency ASIO have the power to in­ves­ti­gate Aus­tralians with a war­rant and can ask ASD for tech­ni­cal ad­vice if they don’t have the ca­pa­bil­i­ties they need. The At­tor­ney-Gen­eral is re­spon­si­ble for is­su­ing ASIO war­rants but the agency’s op­er­a­tion falls un­der the um­brella of Home Af­fairs.

Un­der the pro­posal, Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Peter Dutton and De­fence Min­is­ter Marise Payne would tick off orders to al­low cy­ber spooks to tar­get on­shore threats with­out the top law of­fi­cer know­ing.

Last month the pro­posal was com­piled in a top se­cret min­is­te­rial sub­mis­sion signed by ASD boss Mike Burgess. The pro­posal out­lines sce­nar­ios where cy­ber spies would use of­fen­sive tac­tics to “counter or dis­rupt cy­ber-en­abled crim­i­nals both on­shore and off­shore”.

“The Depart­ment of Home Af­fairs ad­vises that it is brief­ing the Min­is­ter for Home Af­fairs to write to you (Ms Payne) seek­ing your sup­port for a fur­ther tranche of leg­isla­tive re­form to en­able ASD to bet­ter sup­port a range of Home Af­fairs pri­or­i­ties,” the sub­mis­sion states.

But The Sun­day Times un­der­stands Mr Dutton has not yet writ­ten to Ms Payne and no for­mal pro­posal for leg­isla­tive amend­ments has been pre­sented to Gov­ern­ment. In a state­ment, a spokesman for Ms Payne said: “There has been no re­quest to the Min­is­ter for De­fence to al­low ASD to counter or dis­rupt cy­ber-en­abled crim­i­nals on­shore.”

When The Sun­day Times asked an in­tel­li­gence source about the pro­posal, the source said such re­forms al­low cy­ber spies to se­cretly ac­cess dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion on Aus­tralians with­out de­tec­tion, in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions, health data and phone records. “It would give the most pow­er­ful cy­ber spies the power to turn on its own cit­i­zens,” the source said.

The letter also de­tails a pro­posal for co­er­cive “step-in” pow­ers, mean­ing the in­tel­li­gence agency could force gov­ern­ment agen­cies and pri­vate busi­nesses to “com­ply with se­cu­rity mea­sures”.

The in­tel­li­gence source said ASD could com­pel com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ment agen­cies to hand over data or se­cu­rity in­for­ma­tion. In his letter, as shown to The

Sun­day Times, Mr Pezzullo says the move could help bat­tle child ex­ploita­tion net­works and transna­tional crim­i­nal syn­di­cates in­clud­ing ter­ror net­works “on­shore and off­shore”.

“Fur­ther leg­isla­tive re­form could en­able the Aus­tralian Sig­nals Direc­torate to have a stronger role in sup­port of the Home Af­fairs port­fo­lio and our law en­force­ment ef­forts against on­line, cy­ber­crime and cy­ber­en­abled crim­i­nal threats fac­ing Aus­tralia,” he wrote.

“Tra­di­tional law en­force­ment does not have the tech­ni­cal ca­pac­ity to fully iden­tify, de­tect and dis­rupt sys­temic transna­tional or­gan­ised crime and is or­di­nar­ily limited to de­pen­dence on for­eign law en­force­ment part­ners.”

A gov­ern­ment source said: “I am hor­ri­fied.

“The only rea­son it’s not go­ing ahead with ease is be­cause there are good peo­ple who didn’t sign up to do this against Aus­tralian cit­i­zens. There is no ac­tual na­tional se­cu­rity gap this is aim­ing to fill other than a po­lit­i­cal power grab.”

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