The Australian Signals Directorate, Canberra’s equivalent of Britain’s GCHQ or the US National Security Agency, will be granted sweeping new powers to spy on Australians for the first time since its November 1947 founding.
The move allows the agency to collect signals intelligence on individuals within the country without a warrant, although allegedly only in situations where there is an “imminent risk to life.” Domestic terror suspects are cited as a key target in the Directorate’s crosshairs, and it will also collect intelligence in conjunction with the Australian Defence Force for military operations, with ministerial authorization.
Rules governing the reform and protecting citizens’ privacy will be published on the agency’s website, and subject to review and scrutiny by the Australian parliament’s security and intelligence committee. While framed as sincerely concerned with keeping Australians safe, experts have expressed grave reservations about the development. Among them is John Blaxland, Professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies at the Australian National University, himself a military intelligence veteran, who warned the powers were ripe for abuse.
“I’m a former insider… I have a much greater appreciation of the need for checks and balances, because power tends to corrupt,” he cautioned. “My concern is the legislation we put forward is being drafted by insiders, it’s drafted with their own concerns in mind.”