MEDIA RELEASE: Australian Privacy Foundation “seriously alarmed” about recent revelations that would allow Australian Signals Directorate to spy on Australians with even less accountability

The Australian Privacy Foundation is seriously alarmed about a recently revealed legislative proposal that would have Australia’s foreign signals intelligence agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), use its considerable powers to surveil, track, and hack Australian citizens without prior authorisation. This is a dangerous precedent that would remove an already inadequate oversight mechanism that our nation’s top foreign intelligence agency has in relation to the rule of law and democratic accountability. This revelation only reaffirms the need for a robust and comprehensive bill of rights that would provide vital judicial oversight and accountability of some the nation’s most powerful government agencies. While we acknowledge the important role that security intelligence agencies have, these efforts must never come at the expense of meaningful democratic accountability and the protection of Australia’s human rights.

The APF would also like to issue a corrective to what appears to be a misleading understanding in media reports. While reports have correctly noted that the ASD presently has legal authority to monitor Australian citizens to assist domestic intelligence and law enforcement through agreement between the Director of the ASD and the Attorney-General, the reports incorrectly assert this is a form of “judicial authorisation”. An agreement between two heads of agency is a form of executive agreement that is non-compliant with the principles of rule of law. To erroneously suggest that this is a form of judicial authorisation is misleading, and ignores the present state of duress that rule of law is under in Australia.

In response to these issues, the APF calls for:

  1. An immediate public denunciation by all Australian political parties of the proposal to decouple ASD activities from prior authorization by the AG.
  2. A change in the existing status quo that authorises ASD assistance to domestic agencies based on executive authority between the heads of the agencies in favour of actual judicial authorisation that would uphold rule of law and provide meaningful democratic accountability.
  3. That all political parties work together to introduce a comprehensive constitutional rights regime, especially given present day capacities for collection and analysis of digital information.
  4. Enhanced resourcing and legal reform that ensures both the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and Office of the Australian Information Commissioner are fit for purpose.

Contacts:

Adam Molnar03 9244 3799Adam.Molnar@privacy.org.au