ASIO automated bugging errors worry spy watchdog

Domestic spy agency the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) has again bugged the wrong people or bugged without proper legal authority because of errors originating from its automated telephone interception system.

The incidents are documented in the annual report from the office of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), which states three instances of unauthorized telephone interception by ASIO were recorded for 2003/2004 - exactly the same number as for the previous year.

"...the expiry date of a telecommunications interception warrant was incorrectly programmed into the automated interception system used by ASIO (the 18th of the month was inserted instead of the correct expiry date of the 8th)... This error was noted several days after the correct expiry date had passed. None of the product [recordings] collected in the period between the expiry of the warrant and when the error was noted was processed," the IGIS report says of one incident.

Another bungle listed in the report blames an unnamed telco tasked with providing a feed into ASIO's automated bugging system for monitoring the wrong person after mixing up the phone number to be placed under surveillance.

"ASIO provided correct details of a telephone service to be intercepted under warrant authority to a telecommunications carrier, but the carrier mistakenly connected the wrong service to the ASIO recording system. This error, which was wholly beyond the control of ASIO, was promptly noticed and all associated data was immediately destroyed," the IGIS report states.

The IGIS report also raised concerns over the adequate internal checking of the validity interception warrants by ASIO, pointing to an instance where "[a telephone] service continued to be intercepted and product from it continued to be delivered, as though its collection had been properly authorized".

Blaming the legal "breach" on a "cascading effect of several human errors" Inspector General Ian Carnell said he was "concerned that an error of this kind did occur".

"I am exploring what new or additional checking procedures my office might undertake so I can be assured that there is no repetition," Carnell said.

Other interception problems ASIO encountered included intercepted material mistakenly being sent to a "law enforcement agency" instead of ASIO, while an ASIO officer was "counselled" over requesting and authorizing the same interception warrant "contrary to ATI [Authority To Investigate] policy".

The report said interception warrant authorization procedures had since been amended "to ensure that any future such requests would be automatically rejected".

The office of Attorney General Philip Ruddock, whose department oversees ASIO, was contacted for comment.

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