Satellite groundstation. Image: Wutsje (Wikimedia)

Satellite groundstation. Image: Wutsje (Wikimedia)

EFA has suspected since the existence of the NSA’s global internet surveillance program PRISM was revealed recently by whistleblower Ed Snowden, that Australian intelligence agencies have been receiving information from this program about Australians. Australian intelligence agencies have a long-established close working relationship with their counterparts in the US and other Anglosphere countries under an arrangement known as ‘the Five Eyes’.

Last week, Fairfax Media confirmed that Australian intelligence agencies are receiving “huge volumes” of information from PRISM and other US signals intelligence collection programs. As Fairfax’s Australian source has stated, “'We are overwhelmingly dependent on intelligence obtained by the NSA and the US intelligence community more broadly". So deep is Australia’s involvement that the government has been building a secret data storage facility at Canberra’s HMAS Harman Naval base to deal with the ‘deluge’ of data they are collecting. Given the rapidly falling costs and space requirements for data storage, the fact that this new facility is required provides some insight into just how much data is being collected.

This new data centre, nearing completion now, is five years late and 80% over budget, but as Fairfax points out, the Labor government exempted the project from review by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works on the grounds that scrutiny ''would not be in the public interest''. This is clearly an absurd assertion. It is the role of Parliament to determine what is in the public interest and the lack of accountability on this $150 million project should be a concern to all Australians.

The revelation that Australian intelligence is receiving information from the PRISM and other US surveillance programs is in line with the recent confirmation that the UK’s GCHQ (their equivalent of Australia’s about-to-be-renamed Defence Signals Directorate) has also been receiving information from US intelligence about British citizens and residents, allegedly in contravention of UK data protection laws. More recently, The Guardian has reported that GCHQ has also intercepted foreign politicians' communications at G20 summits.

The continuing revelations about the scale and scope of data surveillance (and whistleblower Ed Snowden assures us that there is still more to come) raise a number of serious questions that the Australian government needs to answer.

To date, the government has hidden behind its standard ‘we don’t comment on national security matters’ line, but as the US government has confirmed the existence of PRISM and as the amount of information about the program in the public domain continues to increase, this lack of transparency is becoming increasingly indefensible. This is especially true as the Australian government has not provided any public evidence that this mass data gathering has made us any safer from terrorist attacks or other serious crimes. The failure of surveillance to stop incidents such as the Boston bombings (at least one of the perpetrators of which was already known to intelligence agencies) and the recent murder in London raises serious questions about the effectiveness of collecting masses of data, and about the cost-effectiveness of this approach, particularly when it involves serious risks of abuse or misuse of data and the ever-present risk of such data falling into the ‘wrong hands’.

Last night, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam introduced amendments to the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act to ensure government agencies must get a warrant to request telecommunications data. Given that in 2011-2012 there were nearly 300,000 requests made for such data without the need for a warrant, EFA agrees that this is a dangerous loophole in need of closing. Unfortunately, the major parties united to vote down this amendment.

Australians have a right to be informed about the nature and the scope of surveillance that affects them, particularly when this surveillance involves a foreign government, no matter how close an ally, and to know that this surveillance is subject to appropriate safeguards and authorisation.

EFA calls on the government to come clean with the Australian people about the involvement of Australian intelligence agencies in the PRISM and other foreign surveillance programs, and calls on the opposition to support the government in providing this much-needed transparency.

EFA is committed to opposing society-wide surveillance and is particularly opposed to the proposed new surveillance powers, including mandatory data retention, that have recently been considered by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, whose report is now well overdue.

EFA has launched a new campaign - Citizens, Not Suspects - through which we are fighting the unprecedented extension of surveillance powers.  If you're opposed to mass surveillance of citizens, please support this campaign.

EFA has also joined other digital rights rights groups around the world in supporting the and Bestbits campaigns, which are putting pressure on the US Congress to come clean with the public and dismantle these programs. We urge to support these campaigns as well.


  1. I think its pretty evident what they are Hiding, they are criminals, wantin to make money off the public at any cost, to say it str8, its their orgasm tool.
    The Suspects are investigating the Innocent, an they are the suspects, or criminals in charge of a large operation to destroy the innocent.
    then they lie to us on the media with their empty words, an scapegoat the innocent & disabled for their string of crimes, including their distribution of child porn on the internet, they should be thrown in Jail for that, but it seems they are the true predators we need to look out for, not your average everyday citizen.

    Comment by Lahat on 18 July 2013 at 15:59
  2. I come across a site by fluke that told what i have always supected, THat the terrors iin sydney had blown uo the isreali embassy the went to an under ground car park , built a bomb and placed it underneatyh a restaurant full of people, we where lucky this time when the bomb went off it only damaged the carpark and cars in there , it makes me wonder what else the governent is putting uop with and why?????????????????? the mind boogles are they being pay by the people that cause this this in it self whether by sea air our home grown puts us on a war footing we should be warned so as we have the right to protect ourselfs and our country My heart bleeds for my country it has it head in the sand or do they have a hidden agenda but what I will by hook our grookl protect myself and family against this threat I do not want ever to lose how our country is the freedom to go bush if younand do thinks that we don't lose our freedom by these people Even our christian leaders who sopossed to know the bible are slent on this in the last book of the bible revalations all this is there to read, maybe they are not ruled by GOD or our spiritaul emeny satan i am looking for answer if i was going back to my wiofe after being ill all this year i am now well again i would go to canberra and enter parliment i would most likey get put in gail for this but i don't mind if what i do brings around changed but this will not be until we loose maybe hundreds even thousand of people for them to get there heads out of bums I think now it is too late for my country , because of do gooders and tuning a blind eye I do not leave this country to get away from this threat but go to a country close to the fighting to protect my family the best I can legally over there i cannot shoot them but my wife can so i will kill nono of them'

    Comment by Max Riley on 29 September 2013 at 14:20