Wikileaks accuses intelligence watchdog of misleading Senate inquiry

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange takes issue with IGIS evidence at TIA inquiry

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has accused an Australian government agency of giving misleading evidence to a parliamentary inquiry.

In a submission (PDF) dated 24 September to a Senate inquiry examining reform of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, Assange said that representatives of the Office of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security had misrepresented the “standard operating procedures” among the 5 Eyes intelligence sharing alliance, which comprises Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada and the US.

Assange took issue with evidence given by Jake Blight, assistant inspector general from the Office of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security at an April hearing of the Senate committee.

"I would say that the data sharing about Australian persons for ASD is regulated tightly by the Intelligence Services Act and the privacy rules made under that act and that data about Australian persons is subject to quite strict oversight,” Blight told the committee.

Blight was being quizzed by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, who chairs the inquiry, about “the impression ... created by the revelations overseas that the data sharing between the five security agencies of which ASD [intelligence agency the Australian Signals Directorate] is obviously a part is almost seamless”

“In fact, the revelations of [US National Security Agency whistleblower] Edward Snowden have documented shared and integrated 5 Eyes databases, and that untargeted, bulk interception, collection and sharing of algorithmic analysis of private communications are routine among the 5 Eyes intelligence agencies,” Assange wrote.

“It is absurd that Australian government agencies continue to misrepresent the nature of interception and their access to intercepted data via 5 Eyes sharing arrangements when their equivalents in the UK have acknowledged their role in mass surveillance, including through convenient interpretations of domestic laws to absorb ‘external communications’ which includes all communications transiting Internet platforms and services such as Google, Skype, Facebook, Yahoo not based in the UK.”

The Senate committee should examine documents outlining the US National Security Agency’s XKEYSCORE surveillance program, which members of the 5 Eyes have access to, Assange said.

“This program includes a Five Eyes Defeat checkbox that allows analysts to filter out data from one or more of the Five Eyes countries. Such a check box makes sense only in the context of a default sharing of information among the 5 Eyes that inevitably and necessarily circumvents the TIA.”

Assange also took issue with comments by Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Dr Vivienne Thom about “quite strict oversight” of data collected on Australians while they are overseas.

“The Tempera program also revealed by Snowden refutes this simplistic assumption. Under that program, all 5 Eyes nations access data and metadata resulting from British tapping of fibre optic cable; there are no protections provided to Australians under such indiscriminate collection and sharing arrangements,” Assange wrote.

“Amendments made to the Intelligence Services Act in 2011, including the 'WikiLeaks Amendment’ so dubbed by employees of the Attorney General's Department, greatly reduced the scope or meaning of protections for Australians overseas and greatly increased the surveillance of their communications permitted.

“By expanding the scope of surveillance overreach to anyone that was ‘in the interest of Australia's national security, Australia's foreign relations or Australia's economic wellbeing,' almost anyone could be caught, rendering the 'strict oversight' a gesture, a meaningless gesture in the context of mass surveillance, collection and sharing of intelligence.”

IGIS has been approached for comment.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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