The home of an Australian political journalist has been raided by Australian Federal Police on Tuesday morning.
The raid follows a story published by News Corp Australia publication, the Daily Telegraph, and written by national political editor, Annika Smethurst, in April 2018. The article, titled “Spying shock: Shades of Big Brother as cyber-security vision comes to light”, detailed a discussion between two government agencies that were reportedly discussing the potential for new surveillance powers for Australia’s electronic spy agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).
The Daily Telegraph article included photographs of top secret internal documents that detailed a proposal to allow the ASD to target Australians — if approved by the Defence and Home Affairs ministers.
An anonymous source told the publication the proposal would allow spies to access the digital records of Australians, such as financial transactions, health data and phone records, without a warrant.
The proposal also detailed a plan to grant authorities the ability to forcibly coerce government agencies and private businesses to comply with an order to provide information on Australian citizens, the Telegraph reported.
It would also allow for the ASD’s hackers to “proactively disrupt and covertly remove” cyber threats within Australia by “hacking into critical infrastructure”, it said. The organisation is currently focused on international threats.
Under Australian law, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) can spy on Australians but they must have obtained a warrant issued by the Attorney-General. The warrant allows ASIO to enter and search premises, intercept and inspect mail, use surveillance devices, monitor communications and remotely access computers. It is expected to use other methods before using these powers.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) confirmed via a statement that it had executed a search warrant on the home in Canberra in connection “to an investigation into the alleged unauthorised disclosure of national security information.”
According to the statement, the AFP will allege the release of the documents in a national security breach. The AFP stated that “no arrests are expected today as a result of this activity”.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Smethurst was leaving for work this morning when police officers turned up at her home. They had a warrant from a magistrate that allowed them to search her home, computer and mobile phone.
“The Australian public’s right to know information about government laws that could impact their lives is of fundamental importance in our society,” News Corp Australia said in a statement.
“This raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths. The raid was outrageous and heavy handed.
“News Corp Australia has expressed the most serious concerns about the willingness of governments to undermine the Australian public’s right to know about important decisions governments are making that can and will impact ordinary Australian citizens.
“What’s gone on this morning sends clear and dangerous signals to journalists and newsrooms across Australia. This will chill public interest reporting.”
NGO Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) told Business Insider Australia via email that the police raid was “authoritarian intimidation” and that we are all entitled to live in a free society without fear of bullying by police.
“We need to have a debate about Australians’ rights to privacy and security, and it needs to be held out in the open with the participation of civil society,” a spokesperson for EFA said.
“Exposing the government’s secret plans for yet more surveillance of our everyday lives is clearly in the public interest. This heavy-handed reaction from the government, and so soon after being returned to government after an expected loss, indicates that this is about consolidating power, not keeping us safe. That should scare anyone who wants Australia to be a free society.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the raid and said he believed it was not an attack on the freedom of the press.
“Australia believes strongly in the freedom of the press and we have clear rules and protections for freedom of the press,” Mr Morrison said, according to ABC.
“There are also clear rules protecting Australia’s national security and everybody should operate in accordance with all of those laws passed by our Parliament.
“I support the powers that the agencies have under our laws.”
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