Privacy Advisor

AUSTRALIA—NSA Leaks Reach Australian Shores

June 13, 2013

By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/US, CIPP/E

The recent disclosure of the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance programmes has transcended national borders, sending shockwaves throughout the privacy community. Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the public needs clarity on the programmes. It’s “not good enough for politicians simply to say we have to compromise security with privacy,” he said, adding, “And if material that we thought was private and could only be accessed by the state with probable cause is not private vis-à-vis the state, then that is something we are entitled to be told. And we are entitled and ought to have a proper debate about.” Turnbull also noted he has met with U.S. Ambassador Jeff Bleich to establish “a clearer understanding” of the issues, Computerworld Australia reports.

Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has said data-sharing agreements between Australian law enforcement and the U.S. falls outside the scope of his office’s powers, according to The Australian Financial Review.  “The Privacy Act,” he notes, “includes limited exceptions that allow government agencies and private-sector organisations covered by the act to use and disclose personal information for the enforcement of criminal laws or where the use or disclosure is required or authorised by or under Australian law.” Pilgrim added, “the Privacy Act will generally not cover the acts and practices of overseas government agencies.”

Additionally, in the same report, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has refused to comment on whether Australian authorities have shared data with the U.S. “All Australians would be concerned at the potential for their privacy to be invaded through what other countries are doing, where Australians’ personal data is being stored offshore, be that in big servers somewhere in the world,” he said. “What we wish for, and what certainly the government is going to assist on, is that there be a rule of law and proper checks and balances everywhere in the world, and that is what the battle is going to be about.”

Former Australian Privacy Commissioner Malcolm Crompton, CIPP/US, told Computerworld Australia, “The arguments about data sovereignty have certainly been fired up again…but it was always there,” adding, “we have always known about these risks—none of these are new. Now we just have more evidence that they’re collecting everything.”

Australian privacy advocates and some lawmakers want government authorities to increase transparency on their surveillance programs. Independent Sen. Nick Xenophon said Australian authorities should disclose how much data is collected from Australians.

In a ZDNet News column, Josh Taylor opines that Australians are already familiar with government authorities requiring telecommunications companies to hand over customer data. “It was only nine months ago,” Taylor writes, “that then-Attorney-General Nicola Roxon was saying very similar things…”

And New Zealand Green Party Co-Leader Russel Norman has accused Prime Minister John Key of helping create a surveillance state by encouraging a U.S.-based data-mining company to establish business in the country, The New Zealnd Herald reports.

And The Guardian has released a comprehensive, interactive "guide to your metadata."

Read more by Jedidiah Bracy:
Tech Firms, Lawmakers Respond to NSA Leak
NSA Leak Continues To Send Shockwaves Through Privacy World
Reactions to NSA Disclosures Continue
The NSA’s PRISM Program and Reactions