Under the current Australian laws, only the Federal Police and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation can conduct surveillance on Australians with Australian Signals Directorate, a government agency responsible for foreign signals intelligence, support to military operations, cyber warfare, and information security’s role limited to providing technical assistance.
Award-winning journalist Annika Smethurst, a national political editor for News Corporation’s top-selling Sunday newspapers on Tuesday morning was served search warrant by officers at her home to go through her computer and phone over a story about a secret government plan to spy on Australians through the agency.
The top-secret correspondence contained in Ms Smethurst’s original story reportedly outlined a proposal to allow government spies to “proactively disrupt and covertly remove” onshore cyber threats by “hacking into critical infrastructure”. The proposal would also give the cyber spy agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, powers to snoop on the emails, bank accounts and text messages of Aussies, with the approval of the relevant home affairs and defence ministers.
The report which was published in April last year revealed the departments of Defence and Home Affairs were considering new powers allowing Australians to be monitored for the first time, yet the law currently prevents the agency from monitoring Australian citizens.
In a statement, The Federal Police confirmed they conducted the raid as part of an investigation into the alleged unauthorised disclosure of national security information.
“Police will allege the unauthorised disclosure of these specific documents undermines Australia’s national security. No arrests are expected today as a result of this activity,” the statement read.
Media and civil liberties organisations have condemned the raid by police. Responding to the incident, News Corp Australia has expressed the most serious concerns about the willingness of governments to undermine their public’s right to know about important decisions Governments are making that
“The Australian public’s right to know information about government laws that could impact their lives is of fundamental importance in our society. This raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths. The raid was outrageous and heavy-handed. What’s gone on this morning sends clear and dangerous signals to journalists and newsrooms across Australia. This will chill public interest reporting. can and will impact ordinary Australian citizens,” it said in a statement
The Australian Lawyers Alliance said the law should protect journalists and their sources from “harassment by police and security agencies. The group Digital Rights Watch has also condemned the raid, describing it as a “gross abuse of national security powers”.