Question without Notice on PRISM

questions-without-notice

National Security

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:26): My question is to the Minister representing the Attorney-General, who, I believe, is Senator Ludwig. Minister, are Australian authorities and agencies receiving huge volumes of information from the United States through the warrantless, real-time surveillance program known as PRISM? Are the audio and video chat logs, photographs, emails, documents, connection logs and locational data of Australians being provided to Australian authorities, thereby circumventing such due process as does exist in this country? Minister, to what degree is the Australian government therefore complicit in this unprecedented intrusion into the private lives and data of ordinary citizens?

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland-Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:27): I thank Senator Ludlam for his continued interest in this area. I am aware of the recent media reports concerning allegations about sensitive United States National Security Agency intelligence collection operations. I will preface my remarks with that as a matter of principle-a longstanding one at that. The government does not comment on intelligence matters. I can refer, of course, to statements made by President Obama and other senior figures in the US administration who have reaffirmed in their strongest terms that the US intelligence agencies do operate within the law and are subject to strict congressional and judicial oversight. The US administration has, as I understand it, confirmed that all intelligence activities are carefully targeted against serious threats to national security, including terrorism, espionage and cyberattacks. The Australian government does work closely with its allies on intelligence matters. This is to protect our national interests, including the security of Australians both at home and overseas. In terms of our intelligence activities and intelligence relationships with our close allies, they are about the protection from threats such as terrorism, and to achieve this we work closely with our allies on intelligence matters and we are confident that they understand and respect our legal framework as well. Again, could I just re-emphasise the point that, consistent with the longstanding practice, I will not and neither will I on behalf of the Attorney-General go into the detail of such arrangements, since to do so would potentially expose these important capabilities. (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:29): That was suitably evasive and chilling. I ask a supplementary question. The UK parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee has demanded a report from GCHQ and will visit Washington to convey their concerns directly. Other governments, particularly across Europe, have expressed extreme concern at the scope and apparently warrantless nature of this real-time surveillance program. Does the Australian government have any concerns whatsoever-anything at all-over the scope of this project and, if so, have you communicated such concerns to the US? (Time expired)

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland-Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:30): As I said in answer to the first question-Senator Ludlam ought be careful about pre-preparing questions-the relevant Australian agencies are discussing with their US counterparts any possible implications the NSA disclosure may have for the Australian government. There is, can I be plain about this, no basis for claiming that Australian agencies get access to information from the US that would not otherwise be legal in Australia, and the intelligence activities of all Australian government agencies are conducted in strict accordance with Australian law. What I did say of course was that the Australian government does work closely with our allies on intelligence matters because it is about protecting our national interests, including the security of Australians both home and overseas. So I do reject the premise of the question that was put by Senator Ludlam on this matter. (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:31): Mr President, I ask my final supplementary question of the minister. The National Security Agency of the US has acknowledged that it has interpreted surveillance law to permit many thousands of low-ranking analysts to eavesdrop on calls without authorisation. In addition to the almost 300,000 information requests granted last year to Australian agencies for metadata, will the government categorically affirm whether or not ASIO and DSD are now interpreting surveillance law to allow warrantless eavesdropping?

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland-Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:31): To be clear about this, it is one of those questions to which a negative response obviously creates more interest for the people that Senator Ludlam is interested in. But can I say the intelligence activities of all Australian government agencies are conducted in strict accordance with Australian law. Australian law vigorously protects the rights and privacies of every Australian, including in relation to any communications interception activity. Intelligence agencies are required by law to obtain specific authorisation, either from the Minister for Defence or the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to produce intelligence on any Australian, and for matters relating to threats to security the Attorney-General must also support the approval. All such activities are subject as well to independent review by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security. (Time expired)