Shades of Big Brother as cyber-security vision comes to light

April 30, 2018

Two powerful government agencies are discussing radical new espionage powers that would see Australia’s cyber spy agency monitor Australian citizens for the first time - a move that has been condemned by Australian Conservatives' leader Cory Bernardi.

Under the plan, emails, bank records and text messages of Australians could be secretly accessed by digital spies without a trace, provided the Defence and Home Affairs ministers approved.

The power grab is detailed in top secret letters between the heads of the Department of Home Affairs and Defence, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, which outline proposed new powers for Australia’s electronic spy agency — the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).

The Sunday Telegraph has revealed the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs Mike Pezzullo first wrote to the Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty in February outlining a plan to potentially allow government hackers to “proactively disrupt and covertly remove” onshore cyber threats by “hacking into critical ­infrastructure”.

Under current laws the ASD — whose mission statement is “Reveal Their Secrets — Protect Our Own” — must not produce intelligence on an Australian.

Instead, the Australian Federal Police and domestic spy agency ASIO have the power to investigate Australians with a warrant and can ask ASD for technical advice if they don’t have the capabilities they need.

The Attorney-General is responsible for issuing ASIO warrants, but the agency’s operation fall under the ­umbrella of Home Affairs.

Under the proposal, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Defence Minister Marise Payne would tick off on orders allowing cyber spooks to target onshore threats without the country’s top law officer knowing.

A government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “I am horrified. The only reason it’s not going ahead with ease is because there are good people who didn’t sign up to do this against Australian citizens.

“There is no actual national security gap this is aiming to fill other than a political power grab.”

Senator Bernardi agrees and has told radio station Flow FM the news is a very concerning.

To read Annika Smethurst's full article, click here.

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Picture: Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton

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