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How Australia is spying on its own

By Murray Hunter - posted Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Through rapid technology advances the Australian security apparatus has grown to an Orwellian scale. This has not necessarily been at the design of any elected government but something the Australian bureaucracy was forthright in promoting.

The executive government has only superficial control over the Australian surveillance system. It is fully integrated with the NSA apparatus which immediately brings up an issue about sovereignty. This is not about a country's sovereignty over land, but knowledge. The international exchange of security information is a challenge to human rights of Australian citizens that has to be grappled with.

Consequently, it is not in the interests of the Australian or US intelligence community for any public or even parliamentary discussion. The idea that the parliament and executive are in total control of government is a myth.

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Through technology and its innovative applications, the concept of privacy has been reframed to the point of anything a person does outside of the home or on a computer is public domain, captured through any of the large array of assets that can be utilized for surveillance.

This has allowed the creation of a new premise that has grown up through the administrative arm of the Australian Government. One of compliance. Australia seems to have adopted an almost fanatical compliance culture where the administrators believe that they are the natural custodians of Australia's security interests, over the temporarily elected politicians of the day.

Some of the methods the Australian security state utilizes for intelligence gathering, storing, and collation are well documented and summarized below:

· The Australian Government database is a highly sophisticated group of electronic document and records management system(s) (EDRMS) for collating, storing, and matching data between various agencies and levels of governments. Consequently data collected by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), social security (Centrelink), Medicare, immigration, customs, and police enforcement agencies are integrated with relational databases and query systems. This is supplemented by individual agency databases with extremely detailed information on citizens. They carry an almost complete personal history of residential details going back decades, income, occupation, spouses, children, social security benefits, medical, and travel information, etc. These systems can be accessed by almost anybody within the public service. Every agency within the government has become part of the intelligence collection network.

According to academics Paul Henman and Greg Marston of the University of Queensland, these systems that enable agencies to determine client eligibility for services are highly intrusive and used with a prevailing deep suspicion of citizens in regards to their continuing eligibility for services.

· The most recent revelations in the news about the 'five eye' countries eavesdropping on their citizens phone conversations, emails, and other electronic communications has been astounding. Through meta-data collection systems like PRISM and ECHELON are highly likely to be also operating within Australia due to the close relationship between the NSA and Australian intelligence community. According to AFP assistant commissioner Neil Gaughan, Australian intelligence has a much better relationship with the telecommunications companies than the US intelligence agencies. However this doesn't appear to be a new occurrence. A reliable source working within one of the Australian telephone companies when manual exchanges were operating confirmed that ASIO and state special branches had secret rooms within the exchanges to run phone tapping operations.

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· The NSW police are using an Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system which takes continuous snapshots of car number plates. This is supplemented by tracking cars when they go through tolls.

· Law enforcement agencies have announced that they are preparing to utilize drones for crime surveillance in the not too distant future.

· State and Federal Governments have been encouraging citizens to inform on other citizens they suspect of Breaking the law. Government campaigns have been very successful in achieving all-time high numbers of informants in crime, social security, and taxation related matters.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis.

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