My attention was directed early this morning to a story at the WikiLeaks Party’s official website. An article there points to online media outlet Crikey broke the story of the FBI and the US Department of Justice having entered data sharing agreements with Australia’s largest telecommunications and information services company in 2001. (And for the record here is the document in question signed by then Assistant Attorney General John G. Malcolm, and the legal council for Telstra’s Douglas Gration.)
Spying from Down Under
The crux of all this reporting reveals Australia’s Telstra essentially helped United States’ agencies monitor and store metadata and other private information on American, Australian, and possibly Chinese citizens via the corporations undersea cable network.
I just spoke with WikiLeaks Party Council member and the party’s spokesperson Omar Todd about the issues this morning. The similarity in between this Australian case and that of the UK’s Tempora surveillance seems significant. I asked Todd if Australia’s Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS - first ever Director’s message) or other national agency may have served as intermediary as in the case of Tempora and British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)? To wit:
“With Telstra being owned in a large proportion by the Australian Government at the time, there is ample sense for them to share the information gleaned and obtained under the 5 Eyes agreement Australia has. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UKUSA_Agreement) This massive infringement of privacy of Australian individuals is intolerable and tantamount to treason, if anyone else but the Government shared such information with a foreign power and this is happening globally as Snowden has demonstrated recently.”
For those unfamiliar with the WikiLeaks Party, it was created in part to support Julian Assange’s (image immediately below) bid for a Senate seat in Australia in the 2013 election. The party leadership is made up of WikiLeaks notables such as Assange, intellectuals, security experts, education professionals, legal professionals, activists, and politicians, as well as technology experts and so on.
Back to the demand for answers from Telstra by WikiLeaks Party, Todd (pictured at bottom) goes on to clarify the issue of these agreements “so far” only pointing to past Telstra board decisions, the disposition of private data now being in question. To this end WikiLeaks feels Australians have the right to ask the corporation if their data is still “compromised” by these or any new intelligence agreements.
What Are Your Rights – Down Under?
Of course the main issues for Australians seem fairly straightforward here. First, have there been any more recent agreements which impact the lives and privacy of Australians? Secondly, in light of the more recent Edward Snowden (see Berlin support below) “PRISM” revelations, exactly what sort of data is being gathered and for what purposes today?
The larger issue here is the responsibility these governments and even telecommunications companies have to citizens and customers. Entering into agreements with foreign powers for these kinds of surveillance activities seems all the more rational given our connectedness, but the legality of such cannot be so easily adapted as a smart device SMS society may acknowledge. But always heed the lessons of history:
“…voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” - Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring at Nurembourg -
Electronic surveillance of individuals without their immediate knowledge is, by the nature of the security implied, a breach of individual rights for many judges, politicians, and especially citizens. What seems even more damning in all this is the proven duplicity of huge corporations where helping spying agencies obtain personal information is concerned. This lends itself to adding validity to even the most bizarre conspiracy theories. Documents like this one (PDF) we obtained from the Electronic Frontier Foundation on AT&T whistle-blower J. Scott Marcus, cast an ominous cloud of suspicion where public companies interactions with government secrecy are concerned.
In these cases of fiber-optic “hacking” Telstra and AT&T seemed to show not even the slightest resistance to funneling massive data bits to the NSA, FBI, and other such agencies. In the case of the San Francisco AT&T snooping exposed in 2006, the company allegedly spent resources to “build out” NSA capability for what amounted to “mirroring” private data. The company split their fiber-optic and diverted ALL data to a so-called SG-3 room operated by the NSA and filled with NSA computers. This, without so much as a billboard on I-80 letting customers know to watch their language.
Deeper Down Under – To Be Continued…
The scope of this article does not permit a deeper analysis of these data privacy and security issues. While it may interest some readers to know that within the same AT&T building mentioned above in San Francisco Level 3 Communications also operates. I won’t get into the span of global operations inherent there, but clearly the capability for the US intelligence community is monstrous. These revelations speak of fiber in the ground, but the increasing “cloud” communicative network has hardly been discussed.
While the Obama administration, the NSA, the UK’s government, and essentially every party implicated by the WikiLeaks and Snowden revelations, even prior revelations by private citizens seem to have carried on with impunity, Snowden’s most recent “leaks” have apparently had one measurable effect. The aforementioned AT&T matter saw the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuits on behalf of US citizens dismissed down the line, that is until June of 2013. On June 8, 2013 Judge Jeffrey White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California refused to dismiss the lawsuit. He is the first federal judge to allow the legal issues of Jewel v. National Security Agency to be heard further.
In light of all these desperate items of snooping on civilians without their foreknowledge, from the NSA’s Stellar Wind to the most recent “curiosities” over Edward Snowden, more money seems to be being spent spying on the world’s peoples than alleviating their inherent problems. All other considerations aside, the American constitution in no uncertain terms guarantees under the First Amendment that Congress may not in any way impede the individual’s right to communicate over community by worship, publishing, gathering together or petitioning the government. Spying on these communications, for whatever reason, is for many a illegal act that essentially deconstructs the fabric of the American democracy.
We may discover, after all is said and done, that this de-construct might have been the goal all along. As for the land down under’s citizens? The WikiLeaks Party, for one, believes Australians have the right to know. As for the whole of civilization, perhaps lessons from the past may serve as salvation?
“the road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference” – Ian Kershaw, noted Hitler historian -