Australia’s long sleepwalk into a surveillance state continued last week, with the largely-uncontested passage of the suite of bills creating the Australian Border Force (ABF).
As well as telecommunications metadata access, the legislation wrapped the Australian Border Force (ABF) in a protective coating of spook-power.
Last week, Senator Scott Ludlam warned that the ABF – a mash-up of the “border control functions” of the Departments of Immigration and Customs – was being designated a law enforcement agency under the Telecommunications Interception Act.
That means that Australian citizens who haven’t committed a crime, or even travelled overseas, might still be swept up in a metadata request.
However, as an anonymous reader pointed out to Vulture South, the law goes even further than that.
In the digest of legislation needed to create the ABF, it’s also noted that “the Bill gives significant law enforcement powers to all officers of Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).”
What that means is that the ABF will be able to conduct controlled operations which, under the government’s new national security regime, means the agency now has the power to block reporting of its activities and pursue whistleblowers.
That’s more than a trivial change, since it’s already known that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has been investigating journalists reporting on asylum-seeker issues to try and uncover their sources.
If you were the Secretary of Defense of a large country, you might think you’d be slightly concerned that foreign agents would want to spy on you. Not so down in Australia apparently, where the current Secretary of Defense, insists that he’d be “surprised” if anyone wanted to find out what was on his phone. Seriously.
We’ve written about the recent story, revealed in documents leaked by Ed Snowden, that the NSA and GCHQ were able to hack into the systems of Gemalto, the world’s largest maker of SIM cards for mobile phones, and obtain the encryption keys used in those cards. While Gemalto insists that the hack didn’t actually get those encryption keys, not everyone feels so comfortable with Gemalto’s own analysis of what happened.
Senator Scott Ludlam (who we’ve written about a few times before) reasonably found the story of the Gemalto hack to be concerning, and went about asking some questions of the government to find out what they knew about it. The results are rather astounding. First he had asked ASIO, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, and they said it wasn’t their area, but it might be ASD (the Australian Signals Directorate). The video below shows Ludlam asking the ASD folks for more information about the hack and being flabbergasted that they basically say they haven’t even heard about the hack at all:
Right at the beginning, the first person says he’s not aware of the situation, and Ludlam asks “are you aware of the broad outlines?” and gets a “no I am not” response, leading to a rather dry “Really?!? Okay, this is going to be interesting” reply from Ludlam. It goes on in this nature for a while, with the various people on the panel playing dumb, and Ludlam repeatedly (and rightly) appearing shocked that they appear to have no idea about the story.
But the really incredible part comes in the last minute of the video, in which Ludlam asks the Australian Secretary of Defense, Dennis Richardson, about his own concerns about his phone being spied on:
Ludlam: Do you use an encrypted phone, Mr. Richardson?
Richardson: No, I don’t.
Ludlam: Right. Okay. Do you use a commercial — I’m not asking you to name names — but do you use a commercial telecommunications provider?
Richardson: Yeah, yeah, yes.
Ludlam: So there might be a SIM card in your phone or mind. Does this alarm you at all?
Ludlam: Why is that?
Richardson: Well, because I don’t particularly deal with people who… if anyone wants to listen to my telephone calls they can. I’d be surprised if they do, but I don’t particularly have conversations which I’m particularly worried about.
[Laughter all around the room]
Ludlam: So it’s okay if foreign spooks have hacked every mobile handset in the country because you don’t have anything in particular…
Richardson: It’s possible some might try to.
Ludlam: It’s possible some just have.
Richardson: [shrugs] Well, it’s possible.
So there you have it, folks. The Australian Secretary of Defense says that anyone is allowed to listen in to his calls, because there’s nothing secret about any of them. I’m not quite familiar with public records/freedom of information laws in Australia, but is it possible for someone to put in a request for recording all of the Secretary of Defense’s phone calls?