ABC Radio’s The World Today on Edward Snowden and Prism

I was interviewed today for ABC Radio’s The World Today program:

ELEANOR HALL: In the Federal Parliament today, The Greens will attempt to get an explanation from the Government about Australia’s involvement in the US PRISM surveillance system.

America’s National Security Agency confirmed last week that it is running a clandestine internet surveillance program which pulls in data from large social networks.

The Federal Government in Australia has refused to confirm or deny if US spy agencies have shared information with Australian authorities.

As Will Ockenden reports.

WILL OCKENDEN: It’s been a big few weeks for national security, intelligence and big data enthusiasts.

Revelations about the National Security Agency’s PRISM project by former contractor Edward Snowden have caused a controversy and debate in America.

The US government has answered some questions about how widespread the program is, how deep the monitoring goes, and where collected data ends up.

But in Australia the Federal Government has remained more tight-lipped, and Greens’ communications spokesman Scott Ludlam wants answers.

SCOTT LUDLAN: I want from the Government to know whether this warrantless surveillance scandal that’s unfolding in the United States is occurring here.

Are Australian agencies using this technology or are we importing large data dumps from the United States?

WILL OCKENDEN: Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus hasn’t confirmed or denied if intelligence agencies in the US have shared information from PRISM with authorities in Australia.

Senator Scott Ludlam raised the matter in the Senate yesterday.

SCOTT LUDLAM: Minister, are Australian authorities and agencies receiving huge volumes of information from the United States?

WILL OCKENDEN: The Minister representing the Attorney-General in the Senate is Joe Ludwig.

JOE LUDWIG: As a matter of principle – a long standing one at that – the Government doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.

WILL OCKENDEN: He says if there were any Australian involvement in the sharing of intelligence, like the operation of US PRISM system itself, it would be within the bounds of law.

JOE LUDWIG: The relevant Australian agencies are discussing with their US counterparts any possible implication the NSA disclosure may have for the Australian Government. There is – can I be plain about this – no basis to claim the Australian agencies get access to information from the US that would not otherwise be legal in Australia.

WILL OCKENDEN: The Greens say they’ll try to get Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to explain to Parliament Australia’s involvement in the PRISM system, via a motion today.

Information activist and writer Antony Loewenstein says, even if the motion does pass, any statement is unlikely to provide much information.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Regardless of who’s in power in Canberra there’s a sense somehow that although the US prosecutes intelligence security around the world, Australia wants to be seen under that umbrella and rarely asks questions privately or publicly.

WILL OCKENDEN: He also wonders why the surveillance debate in Australia has been less than the debates overseas.

ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN: Some in the media and many of the political elites on both major sides collude to keep the issue as unimportant or simply, business at usual.

WILL OCKENDEN: While it’s not known if US spy agencies are sharing data with Australia, authorities here are increasingly requesting data from the big US technology companies.

Government requests for data about Australian users of Google went up by more than 11 per cent in the last half of 2012 to 584 requests.

It’s somewhat of a trend. Requests for Google user data have gone up every year since 2009.

The World Today asked the Attorney-General’s office how often the Government asks for data from social media and email providers, like Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

In a statement, it said it doesn’t report on how many individual requests are made to specific providers.

ELEANOR HALL: Will Ockenden.

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