During a twelve month period, Australian intelligence agencies allegedly accessed a spy program more often than their UK counterparts.
The data was gathered by the US National Security Agency’s PRISM program, which accessed customer data from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.
A document released by whistleblower Edward Snowden allegedly revealed that over a 12-month period Australians had their private internet data read more than people in the UK, the ABC reported on Thursday.
From May 2011 to May 2012, Australian spy agency ASD created 310 reports based on PRISM, compared to only 97 in the UK.
Privacy International’s Eric King discovered the document. He told Lateline he was stunned.
“What we’ve now found out is that DSD, the Australian intelligence services, were using PRISM, they were having access directly to Google, Apple, Facebook and other big US companies which are right into heart of their customer’s data and pulling that out,” Mr King said.
“The fact that [Australia] had a third more than even Britain used is astonishing to my mind.”
Such intelligence gathering is reportedly part of the ‘Five Eyes network’, which comprises the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
In 2013, Mr Snowden uncovered the widespread nature of Five Eyes’ private data accessing practices.
This raises the question of whether Australian web users are being watched.
The ASD cannot spy on communications made by Australians in Australia.
However, the ASD can do so when communication is made outside of Australia.
According to the ABC, almost every Google and Facebook server is located offshore.
Former senior Defence Department official Allan Behm told ABC this is not mass surveillance.
“ASD is very, very carefully targeted and focussed on what it does with collected information and I can’t think of a circumstance where the data relating to an ordinary citizen going about their business would be of any interest to ASD whatsoever,” he said.
But he did say the government does not delete the data, meaning it can be accessed in the future.
“One of the interesting developments is the way in which intelligence community and law enforcement have started to move into what they describe as a pattern of life analysis, which is sifting through vast quantities of metadata to look for certain behavioural patterns and connections between people,” he said.
“It’s like having a global 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year search warrant running on whole societies, including Australia.”
A visiting fellow at UNSW Canberra Phillip Dorling conducted research on top of Mr Snowden’s documents, finding that ASD taps undersea fibre optic cables leaving Sydney and Perth.
These cables carry internet traffic and telephone communications.