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Crikey says: Australia lags on spy-watching

Guy Rundle has a stare-off with Andy Coulson at the News phone-hacking trial. Bernard Keane explains why increasing the petrol excise is a good idea — just not for Joe Hockey. A guide to filling a newspaper with no staff (memo to Fairfax), and what’s being done to make Google pay more tax (not much). Plus Crikey’s 2014 Eurovision drinking game. Skal!

The way the UK Parliament oversees intelligence agencies is antiquated and needs a major overhaul, including big changes to the parliamentary intelligence and security committee.

That’s the finding from a House of Commons select committee report out today. The report was conducted in the wake of the revelations of Edward Snowden. The Parliament’s intelligence and security committee now plans its own detailed inquiry into mass surveillance.

That comes on top of the Obama administration’s high-level review of mass surveillance, which concluded that there was no evidence mass surveillance was needed to stop terrorist attacks, that the National Security Agency should be broken up, and that economic espionage by such agencies should be banned. Legislation aimed at curtailing the powers of the NSA is making its way through Congress.

In Australia? Nothing.

No inquiry by our parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security; only Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has tried to initiate such moves. All we’ve had are smears of Snowden, via both Labor and Liberal attorneys-general and national security propagandists masquerading as journalists at The Australian and The Australian Financial Review.

Do we trust intelligence agencies with powers of mass surveillance? We know the Australian Signals Directorate engaged in economic espionage on lawyers and provided the results to US corporations. We know ASD tried to tap the phones of the Indonesian President of Indonesia and his wife. We know the NSA has secretly reserved to itself the right to spy on Australians — even if Australian agencies disagree. We know the Australian Security Intelligence Service used the cover of an aid program to spy on East Timor’s cabinet, and that ASIO tried to intimidate the whistleblower who revealed it.

We don’t “trust” ordinary bureaucrats or politicians with money or power — we subject them to public and parliamentary scrutiny and strict processes of accountability. Security and intelligence agencies, which have huge budgets and extensive powers, face no such public scrutiny or accountability. It’s time Australia, too, examined the way it oversees its spies.

***

Crikey has a new editor. Marni Cordell has worked as a journalist and editor for the past 15 years, and until recently was the publisher and editor of independent news website New Matilda. Cordell joins the Crikey team on May 19.

3
  • 1
    Pamela
    Posted Friday, 9 May 2014 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Australians are fools not to be concerned about the antics of our so called intelligence agencies.
    For example 7 people have been designated as security risks, imprisoned without reason or right of appeal for 5 years and then also without reason or explanation magically released from their incarceration. At a half hours notice - told to pack bag and go- 5 miserable mind destroying years over- leave- freedom is yours.
    Two people I know of- there will be others languish in detention awaiting a Decision from ASIO- oops not allowed to call them anything other than “external agency”. Again no reason justification or timeline.
    The closest oversight is by a monitoring through the IGIS however a request to them yields an everything is fine - don’t contact us again for 6 months- response. That’s it -ASIO can do what they like for as long as they like and no one has any right to ask for transparency much less timely decision making or anything resembling justice.
    Australians ignore security agencies at their peril.

  • 2
    Posted Friday, 9 May 2014 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Too true. So why are Australians paranoic about an Australia card?

  • 3
    AR
    Posted Saturday, 10 May 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Time to dust off Acton’s axiom (“..power corrupting..”) and add the further qualifier, “secret power”.
    People are weak and not just those who take the Master’s side to enjoy unwarranted holds over those who threaten the extra crumbs they hoover up from the Great Table.
    Whether it is a flouro jacket or a guest list, the weaker & more worthless an individual is, the more eagerly they will become overweening & unjust.

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