Government refuses to say if it receives PRISM data

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has declined to say whether Australian intelligence agencies receive information from the PRISM program. Photo: SuppliedFederal police spying on phone, internet
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The Gillard government has sought to head off concerns about any Australian links to a controversial US data gathering program, insisting all information shared between countries was subject to strict oversight.

But the government is standing by its refusal to disclose whether Australia is actually receiving or swapping intelligence with the US in connection with the widespread phone and internet surveillance programs revealed in the past week.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus declined on Tuesday night to say whether Australian intelligence agencies were receiving information from the PRISM program, through which the US is reportedly using “back doors” to access data from big technology firms such as Google, Facebook and Apple.

But he added: “Our intelligence activities and intelligence relationship with close allies, including the United States, protect our country from threats such as terrorism, foreign espionage and cyber intrusions.”

Mr Dreyfus went on to say that intelligence and security agencies were required by law to get authorisation from either the Defence or Foreign Affairs Minister before they produced intelligence on an Australian.

If matters related to threats to security, approval from the Attorney-General was also needed, he said.

Moreoever, all such activities were independently examined by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to make sure the authorisations were conducted within the law.

“Any information obtained by our agencies from the US is subject to these protections,” he said.

The Guardian and Washington Post reported late last week that US signals spies, the National Security Agency, had been secretly collecting emails, documents, photos and other material from the internet through the PRISM program.

On Wednesday morning, one of Canberra’s top cyber security bosses used almost identical language as Mr Dreyfus in an effort to hose down concerns about any overreaching surveillance.

Major General Stephen Day, deputy director for Cyber and Information Security at the Australian Signals Directorate, told a cybersecurity conference in Canberra that “all intelligence activities carried out by ASD are conducted in strict accordance with Australian law”.

Like Mr Dreyfus, he said he could not comment on intelligence matters – according to longstanding practice.

“But what I can say is that we have a very strong legal framework to protect Australians. Under the intelligence services act, (the ASD) is required by law to obtain specific authorisation from the Minister for Defence or the Minister of Foreign Affairs to produce intelligence on Australians,” he said.

“Any information obtained by us from the United States is subject to exactly the same protections,” he said.

Asked whether the ASD had ever outsourced intelligence analysis to a third party organisation, General Day reiterated that he could not comment on intelligence arrangements.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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