Failures

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
asio, australia, privacy, spying, surveillance



Australian Spy Agency Reaches Out And Touches Self In Warrantless Wiretap Misfire

from the calls-are-coming-from-inside-the-house! dept

ASIO -- Australia's NSA -- runs the tightest spying ship in the spying-ship-spying-on-spying-ships business. It's all detailed in one tiny paragraph hidden 26 pages deep in an 100+ page Inspector General's report. [pdf link]

"ASIO intercepted, without warrant, calls made from one of its own regional offices due to a technical error. The data was deleted and processes put in place to ensure it does not happen again."
I'm not sure what tipped the spooks off. Maybe it was the range of the familiar voices (possibly their own, even!) heard during the transcription process. Or maybe it was the embarrassing moment where one ASIO agent admitted to the agent at the other end of the line that he was a "long-time listener" but a "first-time caller," shortly before the feedback loop made the call too painful to continue.

The above screw-up didn't violate the privacy of anyone but a few privacy-violators and the Inspector General readily notes that this sort of thing won't be happening again. Presumably, future warrantless interception will be checked against the very short list of DO NOT SPY numbers, most of which should be readily apparent by their in-house extension numbers.

The report quickly moves on from this little embarrassment but failing to clarify whether it was the interception or the lack of a warrant that was the problem. A "we don't spy on ourselves" policy would make sense but wouldn't necessarily be a violation of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act. On the other hand, the warrant requirement for ASIO is basically an impediment no thicker than the ink applied by a rubber stamp -- all that stands between what the agency wants to do and what it's going to find a way to do anyway. As the laws governing ASIO's surveillance stand now, a warrant is nothing more than a nice afterthought.
The Bill introduces the concept of a "delayed notification search warrant" -- often referred to in the United States as a 'no-knock warrant' -- which would allow Australian Federal Police to search premises without prior warning and "without having to produce the warrant at the time of entry and search".
Maybe the warrant was still in transit, or maybe ASIO though the interception of its own calls fell under one of its other broad warrants, some of which could easily be interpreted as pertaining to every device connected to the Internet.

But these are this year's laws and that is last year's violation, so it still doesn't add up. What it does do is throw some hazy light on an agency that thrives in the dark and just successfully ushered in a brave new world of domestic surveillance. This incident proves a valuable point about trust (namely: don't) and answers an important rhetorical question: Who watches the watchers?

Clearly, the watchers do.

Sometimes.

But only inadvertently.

And it won't happen again.


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  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 20 Oct 2014 @ 12:46pm

    Answers that

    I guess we know now who will watch the watchers...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mason Wheeler, 20 Oct 2014 @ 12:49pm

    Of course they intercepted it. I bet those spooks were talking about exactly the sort of subject matter intelligence analysts want to listen in on!

    (Any resemblance to a game of Paranoia is, of course, entirely coincidental and only a commie mutant traitor would suggest otherwise.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 12:50pm

    "The data was deleted and processes put in place to ensure it does not happen again."


    So they do know what restraint means.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 1:20pm

    You guys cut the quote short. Full-context is key for understanding their diligence and careful approach:
    "The data was deleted and processes put in place to ensure it does not happen again. To ourselves only. Everyone else can get fucked."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 20 Oct 2014 @ 1:37pm

    Spy agencies spying? Whatever next, space agencies going into space, Armies doing fighty stuff and marine agencies..doing.. that marine stuff..what ever it is they do. The world has gone mad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 1:58pm

      Re:

      Spy agencies spying? Whatever next, space agencies going into space
      Spy agencies spying on entities they are not supposed to spy on. Most people would put "people not reasonably suspected of any crime" on the bold list, but employees of the major spy agencies hate the idea that there might exist information they don't have a copy of, so they restrict their bold list to themselves and cooperating spy agencies from other powers (though the latter is mostly an in-name-only deal).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 4:26pm

      Re:

      I think people would have a similar reaction to space agencies being funded to conduct a multi-billion-dollar mission to... their launch site.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 2:10pm

    I worked with a guy for years who had a phrase to describe organizations like this--he would say it was like watching a monkey try to fuck a football.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 2:21pm

    "ASIO runs the tightest spying ship in the spying-ship-spying-on-spying-ships business."

    Shouldn't there be some kind of award for publishing such a finely crafted sentence such at this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 3:04pm

    Agent: "Boss, listen to this. These guys have spy capabilities as good as ours. Maybe better."
    Boss: "Do they know you're listening?"
    Agent: "I think so. Someone just asked, 'Do they know you're listening?'"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    G Thompson (profile), 20 Oct 2014 @ 4:28pm

    As an Australian, who actually has had to deal with this organisation a fair few times, I am just going to sit here in the corner slowly rocking back and forth trying not to go totally insane by the constant giggling coming out of my mouth.

    pray for me!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 20 Oct 2014 @ 6:27pm

    Monty Python?

    "Those responsible for sacking the people who have just been sacked have been sacked "

    Or...

    Those responsible for spying on the people who have just been spied upon have been spied upon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 10:25pm

    Song by the "Spyvinyls"

    I don't tap
    Anybody else
    When I wiretap you
    I touch myself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2014 @ 1:07am

    Technical error.........riiiiiiight

    You sure its not because, someone somewhere, just, could......

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2014 @ 1:28am

    This is a one-time mistake, and it will never happen again. Here at ASIO, we pride ourselves on not knowing what the hell we're doing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2014 @ 3:46am

    Not Austrlia's NSA

    ASIO is Australia's equivalent of the British Security Service (MI5) - it has some police-like powers but its officers aren't constables. They do counterespionage, counterterroism, etc., but actual arrests are usually made by the AFP or state police. They can hold people in custody, but that is legally different from a normal arrest.

    The equivalent of the NSA or GCHQ is the Australian Signals Directorate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Just Another Anonymous Troll, 21 Oct 2014 @ 6:38am

    Maybe someone called terrorists and then the spies, making them 2 hops away from terrorists and therefore "legitimate" surveillance targets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 21 Oct 2014 @ 7:23am

    Australian Spy Agency Reaches Out And Touches Self

    Pardon me but wouldn't this be some sort of masterbation for spies? Ahem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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