He Says, She Says: Media and Government Bickers over Snowden Leaked Documents

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By Athena Yenko | December 3, 2013 2:40 PM EST

On December 2, The Guardian reported that the Australia surveillance had volunteered to share private data of ordinary Australian citizens to its major intelligence partners. This information was obtained from the leaked Snowden 2008 documents, the 5-Eyes document. The Guardian alleged that Australia was open to pooling bulk data that almost certainly includes information about Australian citizens.

In a nutshell the documents revealed the following about Australia:

  • DSD (Defence SignalsDirectorate) indicated it could provide material without some privacy restraints imposed by other countries such as Canada
  • Medical, legal or religious information 'not automatically limited' 
  • Concern that intelligence agency could be 'operating outside its legal mandate'

The Guardian alleged that this "working document" revealed that Australia volunteered the information at a Five Eyes nations meeting in Britain's signals intelligence agency at Cheltenham on April 22 and 23 of 2008.

However, Senator George Brandis slammed the report saying it was founded on untested draft document "which, contrary to the report, does not report or record any activity by any Australian intelligence agency".

He said that the Australian government acted in accordance with the law and has the national interest on top of its utmost priority.

Defence Minister David Johnston said that the report by The Guardian made the government assume the worst in as far as the international intelligence agencies are concerned. The Snowden leaked documents aroused fear of counter-terrorism.

"This is not an area I can get into in great detail. But I simply say, assume the worst. We are watching with great acuity what is happening. But we must assume the worst. There is no alternative for us," Mr Johnston told the press.

Former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon, on the other hand said that if the reports were correct, then there is the question of which ministerial department approved the said giving out of Australian citizens' private data.

"Before DSD looks at an Australian citizen, it requires, at least in my time, the signature of both the defence minister and the attorney-general," Mr Fitzgibbon told the Skynews.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Tony Abbott upheld that the intelligence authorities had operated within the boundaries of the law.

"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. The material that I understand was referred to in The Guardian story related to essentially the billing data. Now that has been available, but there's a big difference between billing data and the content of calls," Mr Abbott said.

ABC was also in the middle of the squabble as it was accused of assisting The Guardian Australia in revealing Australia's alleged spying to Indonesia.

In its defence, ABC said that they had been collaborating with different news organization even before.

"The ABC has collaborated with a range of news organisations over the years and we will continue to do so in the future. These collaborations are done on a case-by-case basis depending on the issue and program," ABC spokesman Michael Millet said.

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