Australia was ready to share metadata

By Greg Ansley

American whistleblower Edward Snowden's earlier revelations have severely embarrassed Australia. Photo / AP
American whistleblower Edward Snowden's earlier revelations have severely embarrassed Australia. Photo / AP

Further damaging reports of electronic spying have emerged, with documents showing Australia's eavesdropping agency was prepared to share information on individual citizens to intelligence partners.

Minutes of a meeting in Britain in April 2008 disclose the apparent offer to New Zealand, the United States, Britain and Canada under the "Five Eyes" intelligence network.

The documents were released to the Guardian Australia by American whistleblower Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor whose earlier revelations have severely embarrassed Australia.

Reports that Australia tapped the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and senior colleagues have triggered a deep rift between the two countries.

Analysts believe further damaging revelations are yet to come.

The latest documents referred to a Five Eyes meeting in London to discuss what could and what could not be shared between the different countries, the Guardian reported.

The newspaper said the documents showed that the Australian Signals Directorate, then known as the Defence Signals Directorate, was apparently more prepared than other countries to share material collected on ordinary Australians.

It said the documents showed that Canada imposed more rigorous privacy restrictions than Australia, agreeing to share information on the condition that information about its citizens first be redacted.

"DSD can share bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata as long as there is no intent to target an Australian national," the documents said.

"Unintentional collection is not viewed as a significant issue."

Metadata is the information generated when people use technology such as phones and computers, the Guardian said. "Bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata" means the data is in its raw state, with nothing deleted to protect people's privacy.

The documents said the DSD had discussed the option of sharing "medical, legal or religious" information.

The Guardian said the notes of the meeting did not indicate whether the activities under discussion progressed to final decisions or specific actions.

It said they appeared to be a working draft.

In an article in the Guardian prominent Australian human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson said that if the DSD had taken action as described in the notes it would have breached the Intelligence Services Act.

"These minutes are further evidence we are slipping into an Orwellian world where the state can scoop up any electronic communication, and in which DSD thinks it can lawfully tittle-tattle on Australians to foreign agencies and is even considering disclosure to "non-intelligence agencies" - police, professional associations, employers and perhaps even to newspapers," he said.

- NZ Herald

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