Australia’s spy agency offered to share information about its own citizens with foreign intelligence partners, according to leaked documents published Monday, sparking calls for an inquiry.
The latest revelations by US intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden, reported by The Guardian Australia, show that the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) discussed the option of sharing “medical, legal or religious information”.
The partners included the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, collectively known as 5-Eyes, with the document, marked secret, based on notes from a conference hosted by Britain in 2008.
It follows a Snowden release last month showing Australian spy agencies tried to listen to the phone calls of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as well as his wife and inner circle, sparking a diplomatic crisis.
According to the report, the DSD, now known as the Australian Signals Directorate, told its global partners it could share “bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata as long as there is no intent to target an Australian national”.
“Unintentional collection is not viewed as a significant issue,” notes from the conference said, although the agency acknowledged that more substantial interrogation of the material would require a warrant.
The Guardian said the document shed new light on “the extent to which intelligence agencies at that time were considering sharing information with foreign surveillance partners”.
“It provides further confirmation that, to some extent at least, there is warrantless surveillance of Australians’ personal metadata.”
Metadata refers to the information people generate when they use technology such as phones and computers.
The newspaper cited top human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson as saying the latest revelations increased concerns that the agency could be operating outside its legal mandate.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlum also said the document “implies that the agency may have been breaching Australian law for five years”, demanding an inquiry.
“The government can no longer avoid the issues and hide behind platitudes that everything is done in accordance with the law,” Ludlam told parliament.
“It is the job of this parliament to conduct a full inquiry, as is happening in many other countries around the world.”
But Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had no reason to believe any laws had been broken.
“Intelligence gathering is subject to supervision by the joint parliamentary committee. It’s also subject to supervision, very close supervision, from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security,” Abbott told reporters.
“I’m confident that we’ve got all the relevant safeguards in place and I have no reason to think that any Australian intelligence organisation has not acted in accordance with Australian law.”
Former US National Security Agency contractor Snowden was granted asylum in Russia in August, to the fury of the United States where he is wanted on espionage charges following disclosures that have provoked international uproar and strained ties with allies.