Police Using Journalists’ Metadata to Hunt Down Whistleblowers

Police Using Journalists’ Metadata to Hunt Down Whistleblowers:

In the past year, the Australian Federal Police has been asked to investigate a piece in The Australian about the Government’s’ leaked Draft Defence White Paper, and a Fairfax Media story on a proposal to reform to citizenship laws.

Just last week, police raided Parliament House in an attempt to track down the source of an embarrassing leak about the National Broadband Network. It’s feared that these investigations, along with increased penalties for whistleblowers, are hindering the ability of journalists to hold policymakers to account.

It was with this in mind that the Opposition eventually voted for the amendments that created the Journalist Information Warrant scheme, and allowed the Data Retention laws to pass last year. In a last minute effort to shore up support for the legislation, the Government agreed to add provisions for ‘safeguards’ that would, in theory, prevent the scheme being used to target journalists’ sources. However, a closer look at the scheme reveals its flaws.

When a democracy creates warranting schemes solely to determine who is willing to speak with journalists, the democracy is demonstrably in danger of slipping free of the grasp of the citizenry.


Scientists Release Air that Has Been Trapped for 800 Million Years

Scientists Release Air that Has Been Trapped for 800 Million Years:

“There was a lot of debate as to what the oxygen content was 800 million or more years ago,” said Blamey in a statement. “We’ve come up with a direct method of analyzing the content of those trapped fossil gasses in the atmosphere and found that the oxygen level was approximately half of what it is today.”

To get a nice healthy wiff of that nearly billion-year-old atmosphere, the team placed halite crystals from southwest Australia in a vacuum chamber and crushed them, releasing the actual air that circulated during this bygone era in our planet’s history.

“It’s a direct measurement of the atmosphere of that time, not an interpretation,” emphasized study co-author Uwe Brand.

Modern science is amazing.


Police Commissioner defends access to Opal card records

Police Commissioner defends access to Opal card records:

NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has defended police being given powers to access Opal card records as a crucial tool to ensure the “safety and security of the community”.

The police chief’s defence came as a complaint was lodged with the state’s privacy commissioner about law enforcement agencies being able to track hundreds of thousands of commuters without a warrant.

Significantly, it isn’t just the police who could access Opal card data. It’s anyone defined with law enforcement powers which, in Australia, includes over 100 different groups. That this kind of data can be accessed without warrant – data that can reveal roughly where people live, work, the kinds of places they visit, people they commonly travel with – is absolutely absurd.


the [Australian Security Intelligence Organization] ASIO said that Snowden’s leaks will make it more difficult for the organization to collect meaningful data about a person, so the organization should be given more leeway to perform its surveillance duties. In its proposal, the ASIO asserted that certain technological advances are detrimental to its spying on bad actors (a refrain that is not often heard, as it’s generally accepted that technology is making it easier to spy on citizens).

Smaller state police organizations joined the ASIO in asking that telecom companies be obligated to retain customers’ metadata for a substantial period of time. (The ASIO cited as a preferred model President Obama’s proposal earlier this year to compel telecom companies to keep customer data rather than having the NSA siphon that data into its own repositories.) But police organizations like the Northern Territory Police and the Victoria Police also went further in requesting that the Australian government require companies to keep IP addresses and Web browsing history as part of its metadata collection.

The Northern Territory Police, for example, argued for a two-year retention of Web browsing history. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the police thought “a shift away from traditional telephony services to Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and others meant that data may be included in browser histories and was ‘as important to capture as telephone records.’”

So, given that Australians are decreasing their trust in their government based on what they’re learning their intelligence services are presently doing, the same services argue that they should have even more access to Australians’ private communications? Because more data retention combined with shadowy access to telecommunications data will improve trust in government and, as a result, strengthen the democratic spirit of the Australian people, right?


Police spy on web, phone usage with no warrants

Just so it remains clear just how much surveillance can happen in Commonwealth countries when authorities enjoy broad lawful access to communications data without needing warrants:

Law enforcement and government departments are accessing vast quantities of phone and internet usage data without warrants, prompting warnings from the Greens of a growing “surveillance state” and calls by privacy groups for tighter controls.

Figures released by the federal Attorney-General’s Department show that federal and state government agencies accessed telecommunications data and internet logs more than 250,000 times during criminal and revenue investigations in 2010-11.


Access is authorised by senior police officers or officials rather than by judicial warrant.

Federal agencies making use of telecommunications data include the Australian Federal Police, Australian Crime Commission and Australian Taxation Office, departments including Defence, Immigration and Citizenship, and Health and Ageing, and Medicare and Australia Post.

Data is also accessed by state police and anti-corruption bodies, government departments and revenue offices, and many other official bodies.

Needless to say, that’s an awful lot of parties accessing an awful lot of information about Australian citizens. Not included: statistics on telecommunications data access by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.


Huawei Blocked on National Security Grounds

We recently learned that the Australian government had blocked Huawei from tendering contracts for Australia’s National Broadband Network. The government defended their position, stating that:

As such, and as a strategic and significant government investment, we have a responsibility to do our utmost to protect its integrity and that of the information carried on it.

Of note, internally Huawei had been a preferred choice but the company was ostensibly blocked for political/security, rather than economic, reasons. This decision isn’t terribly surprising given that American, Australian, and United Kingdom national intelligence and security agencies have all come out against using Huawei equipment in key government-used networks. The rationale is that, even were a forensic code audit possible (and likely wouldn’t be, on grounds that we’re talking millions of lines of code) it wouldn’t be possible to perform such an audit on each and every update. In effect, knowing that a product is secure now isn’t a guarantee that the product will remain secure tomorrow after receiving a routine service update. The concern is that Huawei could, as a Chinese company, be compelled by the Chinese government to include such a vulnerability in an update. Many in the security community suspect that such vulnerabilities have already been seeded.

Does this mean that security is necessarily the real reason for the ‘national security card’ being played in Australia? No, of course not. It’s equally possible that calling national security:

  • let’s the government work with a company that it already has ties with and wants to support;
  • is the result of the government being enticed – either domestically or from foreign sources – to prefer a non-Huawei alternative;
  • permits purchases of a non-Huawei equipment from vendors that are preferred for political reasons; perhaps buying Chinese goods just wouldn’t be seen as a popular move for the government of the day.

Moreover, simply because Australia isn’t tendering contracts from Huawei doesn’t suggest that whatever equipment is purchased will be any more secure. In theory, were Cisco equipment used to power the National Broadband Network then the American government could similarly compel Cisco to add vulnerabilities into routers.

In part, what this comes down to is who do you trust to spy on you? If you see the Americans as more friendly and/or less likely to involve themselves closely in your matters of state, then perhaps American companies are preferred over your economic and geographical next-door neighbours.

I should note, just in closing, that Huawei has contracts with most (though not quite all) of Canada’s largest mobile and wireline Internet companies. Having spoken with high-level governmental officials about security concerns surrounding Huawei’s equipment there seems to be a total lack of concern: just because GCHQ, NSA, and ASIO have publicly raised concerns about the company’s equipment doesn’t seem to raise any alarm bells or worries with our highest government officials.