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Greens MP fears phone was hacked in WikiLeaks exchange

West Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says his iPhone may have been hacked by the federal government so it could keep tabs on an internet activist.

Ludlam told Crikey from New Zealand this morning that his iPhone had been exhibiting strange behaviour consistent with external interception when he escorted former WikiLeaks spokesman Jacob Appelbaum from Ballarat to Melbourne last Friday.

The US-based Appelbaum is a key developer of The Tor Project, which helps users connect anonymously to the internet. He has been under close watch by US government operatives for years and until late last year was regularly detained at airports when re-entering the US. He is was also one of several WikiLeaks associates who were the subjects of a secret Department of Justice order to force Twitter to release private data part of an investigation into the leaking of US diplomatic cables.

The duo were travelling to a forum — The War on the Internet — held at Trades Hall in Melbourne on Saturday. During the commute, Senator Ludlam’s iPhone began to die.

I was Jacob’s chaperone back from Ballarat to Melbourne for the forum … and I discovered first thing in the morning that the battery was being chewed through freakishly quickly,” Ludlam told Crikey. ”I needed to put another other charge on it by about 10 or 10.30 in the morning. So it was being eaten up two or three times faster than normal.”

Appelbaum explained his phone may have been “off”, in the language of the intelligence services.

That’s one symptom if the transmitter’s been switched on remotely so it’s basically broadcasting whatever it’s hearing … that would be one reason the battery was being chewed up,” Ludlam said. ”I wouldn’t have thought much about it, except for the fact that I’ve been spending quite a bit of time recently around people that who are actually surveilled.”

Under the Telecommunications Interceptions and Access Act, dozens of state and federal government agencies are able to apply to access meta-data from mobile phones, including their precise GPS location.

Saturday’s Trades Hall conference opened with an audio address from Assange. WikiLeaks has been under serious scrutiny from ASIO ever since the US government alerted Australia of an imminent dump of military cables in late 2010.

On Twitter, Appelbaum suggested programs such as FinFisher or HackingTeam could have been sicced onto Ludlam’s phone to remotely access its microphone capacity and broadcast the audio to government spooks.

Appelbaum told the conference Senator Ludlam’s phone had an “interesting short battery life” since he had arrived in the country. Later he tweeted: “The good senator’s phone battery life went from reasonable to zero after visiting #LCA2012 with me. Many others, same issue.”

I don’t want to come across as paranoid and delusional but Jacob is under regular surveillance and so is Julian Assange and his colleagues,” Ludlam explained. ”Anyone with a smart phone, these things are used to track your location … not just by cell tower but also they’re reporting latitude and longitude by the GPS … these things can happen and it’s not necessarily your government doing it. “

A straw poll conducted by fellow panellist and Assange co-author Suelette Dreyfus asked whether anyone at Trades Hall was a member of the intelligence or law enforcement community but it turned up no hands (Crikey’s Bernard Keane was also at the forum discussing his e-book The War on the Internet). Repeated references were made to undercover ASIO officers in the audience and Dreyfus equated their “covert” activity with the Stasi.

The usual “casual clothes” get-ups worn by Melbourne-based ASIO officers familiar to activists include conspicuous English Premier League jerseys, however none were immediately evident in the auditorium.

So-called “warrant-less” wiretapping by Australian government agencies has exploded in popularity in recent years. In 2010-11, a record 243,631 applications for access so-called telecommunications “meta-data”, including IP addresses, the precise location of mobile devices and the identity of persons contacted, according to the Telecommunications Interceptions and Access Act annual report on the Attorney-General’s website.

Higher levels of interception used to access live data that permit listening in to phone calls and reading emails were less common, but still prevalent.

Ludlam, the Greens’ communications spokesman, told Crikey that meta-data requests were “fast becoming ubiquitous and very few people are aware of how widespread it is”,

Recently, federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson requested souped-up surveillance by the Australian Federal Police on environmental activists using the outsourced skills of the National Open Source Intelligence Centre, which monitors blogs, Facebook and Twitter chatter.

ASIO told Crikey this morning that for “security reasons it would be inappropriate for ASIO to comment publicly on specific individuals”.

However, it should be emphasised that ASIO’s collection of intelligence via telecommunications interception requires a warrant. ASIO must seek agreement from the Attorney-General and satisfy strict tests set out in relevant legislation before a warrant will be issued. ASIO’s warranted activities are the subject of particularly stringent oversight within ASIO and are regularly scrutinised by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS).”

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  • 1
    Coaltopia
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Seems a bit flimsy. Any way to determine if a phone has been hacked or had software installed/removed?

    National Open Source Intelligence Centre… so are they known as the NOSI C’s?

  • 2
    Mack the Knife
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I’ve made some very critical comments on Israel on facebook and now my PC which is a fast modern job goes through stages where it will suddenly slow dramatically.

    My mobile also has erratic battery lives where its charge period lasts less that 30 hours as distinct from its normal 3-5 days.

    ASIO has always been a tool of the coalition as those who remember Whitlam’s Commonwealth Police raid on ASIO would remember.

    I couldn’t care less if ASIO or anyone else is or isn’t monitoring me. I very much doubt though that any legal or illegal monitoring of Australia’s citizens has anything to do with Australia though.

    ASIO showed their corruptness when they lied about Iraq WMDs to aid John Howard’s objectives so anything’s possible.

  • 3
    paddy
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Don’t know enough to comment on the phone hacking stuff.
    But this…..

    In 2010-11, a record 243,631 applications for access so-called telecommunications “meta-data”, including IP addresses, the precise location of mobile devices and the identity of persons contacted

    …..is a seriously worrying trend.

  • 4
    ggm
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Lets see. Does the Senator understand PUSH and 3G when in a 2G coverage zone?

    I’m guessing that this is his battery draining because he had GPS on, and was refreshing maps, or because he’s used to city centre service with high signal levels on 2100 and not rural on 850.

    I’m guessing that the more both of them descended into a paranoid delusional fantasy, the more they used their phones, with more apps, all of them attempting location services, and it fed itself into flatness.

    We’ve all played ‘spot the special branch’ and its pretty boring. Since I have a number-2 haircut do you assume I’m a plod? I didn’t realize english premier football league tops was a secret code. I assumed that all went out with Hankie code for the gay community. I assume anyone in a tie in Canberra is a pollie. Maybe I’m wrong and they all work for DSD?

    Really, if the ASIO want to identify each other, they can do it far more effectively than a leeds united top.

  • 5
    Scott
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Better get your tin foil hat on Ludlam!

    Seriously, this is an exclusive for crikey?? This is rubbish.

    Type “iPhone” and “Battery” into google and see what comes up. Unless ASIO is tapping into a large percentage of iPhone users, blind freddy can see that this is just standard iPhone behaviour. They have had chronic battery life issues since the first versions. Ludlam probably just had an automatic update to his iOS that turned on some new functionality, resulting in a drain on his battery. Big deal.

  • 6
    michael crook
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Same thing, ever since I started suggesting a coal mine bombing campaign. Funny that!

  • 7
    Jude Graham
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Just because you are paranoid it does not mean you are not being hacked!

  • 8
    Worthington
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Yes, that’s right Senator - you were hacked; ASIO, the CIA, the FBI and the CWA are all watching you, can’t possibly be a technical problem with the iPhone. Good grief!

  • 9
    Lord Barry Bonkton
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Maybe Ltd News hacked his phone and not ASIO ?? You never know. They thought Princess Di was paranoid about her phone too and we all know how that turned out. Just go back to the old phones with no GPS.

  • 10
    Dajopa
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Ha ha what rubbish! “plain clothes get up” you mean the ASIO people weren’t wearing fake moustaches and watching through a hole in the newspaper? They must have changed their M/O.

    @Mack - ASIO are a domestic agency and would not have done any reporting on Iraq’s weapons program. I think you mean ASIS and the ONA.

    I think Ludlam’s cognitive dissonance won’t let him believe that an Apple product could in fact be crap. It can’t be, Apple is awesome…….must be the government.

  • 11
    SG85
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    This is a bit ridiculous isn’t it? Get out the tin foil hats!

  • 12
    Filth Dimension
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Where’s SB? this is right up her alley.

  • 13
    pedro
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Recently I spent a week in a remote location on the south coast of NSW. While my phone indicated there was a 1-2 bars signal I was unable to make calls, only send texts, albeit very slowly.

    The point of my post however is that my iPhone4 drained its battery at about 3x the normal rate during that entire week. As soon as I was back in Sydney battery life returned to normal.

    The reason? IMHO probably because I left things like ‘Location Services’ switched on, so the phone was pinging itself stupid trying to update all the location-aware apps, but couldn’t get a strong enough signal to connect.

    The Senator should Google iPhone and battery life (as another poster pointed out). When out of the city there are things that should be deactivated to preserve battery life.

  • 14
    GeeWizz
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    “I was Jacob’s chaperone back from Ballarat to Melbourne for the forum … and I discovered first thing in the morning that the battery was being chewed through freakishly quickly,” Ludlam told Crikey. ”I needed to put another other charge on it by about 10 or 10.30 in the morning. So it was being eaten up two or three times faster than normal.” “

    It’s actually a common iphone problem.

    Also if your phone is outside mobile reception range it will transmit at 100% power to try and pick up a tower.

    Now wheres that Tinfoil…

  • 15
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Smart phone - an oxymoron well worthy of the Ministry of Truth.

  • 16
    Posted Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Couldn’t Senator Ludlam push to introduce a bill that would require a warrant for accessing such meta-data? That would seem like an appropriate response.

  • 17
    Glenn Brandham
    Posted Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Nice one Dave, I’ll second it, Yea, now for a hands up…

  • 18
    Liam Jones
    Posted Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know why it would be so absurd to think he was monitored. Jacob Appelbaum is regularly monitored and detained due to his activism.

    It is certainly possible that his phone battery was just shot, for the specific time he was in contact with Appelbaum. But trying to write it off by saying “GPS was on” or “he was in the city” which doesn’t really mean much as most smartphones has the GPS on by default, and the city generally has extremely good coverage, which will drain the battery even less.

    Basically. He can’t prove that he was tapped, but it is certainly not out of the question, especially considering his contacts and the surveillance state we have found ourselves in.

  • 19
    Coaltopia
    Posted Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Liam, it’s not out of the realm of possibility, it’s just flimsy to me.

    The very lack of evidence is thus treated as evidence; the absence of smoke proves that the fire is very carefully hidden. ” —C.S. Lewis

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