Thursday, 20 June 2013
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, Senator Bob Carr. Under the United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18, interception refers not to the fact of all phone calls, emails and electronic data being collected and stored but to a human listening to or reading the phone calls, emails and electronic data content. My question is: what is the equivalent directive or legislation in Australia and how is interception defined?
All communication interception activities carried out by government agencies are conducted in strict accordance with Australian law. In Australia, the privacy of communications is protected by the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, referred to as the interception act.
For the purposes of the act, interception of a communication passing over a telecommunications system consists of listening to or recording, by any means, such a communication in its passage over that system without the knowledge of the person making the communication. The interception act prohibits the listening to, the copying or recording of a communication as it passes over an Australian telecommunications system.
Agencies such as the police must obtain an independently issued warrant for the investigation of serious offences. ASIO has to obtain the authorisation of the Attorney-General for its warrants on matters pertaining to national security. There are limited circumstances in which information can be lawfully obtained through covert means. These include murder, organised crime and drug trafficking, as well as protecting our national security. Access to these powers is governed by significant accountability to and oversight by the Ombudsman and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.
Commonwealth agencies are required to maintain records relating to interceptions and the use, dissemination and destruction of intercepted information. This is the framework which governs any interception in the Australian context. This is the legal architecture. These records, I should add, must be inspected—and I emphasise 'must'—by the Commonwealth Ombudsman or the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security on a regular basis.
Mr President, I think the minister is confused in that the act he refers to is not the same as the Defence Signals Directorate. My supplementary question relates to metadata. Are any email addresses exempt from the MAINWAY, MARINA, NUCLEON or PRISM programs? For example, are the official or unofficial email addresses of members of parliament exempt? What about internet metadata or content from parliamentary logons?
As a matter of principle and long-standing practice the government does not comment on intelligence matters. I do reiterate, however, that we have a strong legal framework to protect Australians. Intelligence Services Act agencies such as the Defence Signals Directorate, to which Senator Xenophon refers, are required by law to obtain specific authorisation either from the Minister for Defence or the Minister for Foreign Affairs to produce intelligence on an Australian. In matters relating to threats to security, the Attorney-General must also support the approval. All such activities are independently examined by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to ensure that authorisations are conducted in accordance with this law.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister confirm whether under the legislative powers metadata is being obtained in relation to members of parliament? The minister has not directly answered that question.