Against Government attacks on privacy



To: Government


Re: Australians fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq

Dear Mr Abbott,

The response of your Government to reports of 150 Australians fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq by deciding to extend the powers of the secret service is unacceptable. It is dangerous and undemocratic.

Your decision to beef up surveillance of Australian citizens is uncalled for when reasonable watching of a very small number of fanatics would suffice. We already have too much surveillance.

We have already the Five Eyes relationship (US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) which means that member Governments including Australia place the desires of the NSA above the rights of their own citizens.

In 2011 Australia’s DSD asked the NSA to increase its surveillance of Australian citizens on the suspicion of an ‘increased threat’. 

We already know from the Snowden revelations that the DSD and NSA have trashed Australians’ privacy. We object to this latest knee jerk reaction of casting a huge net over large sections of the population. There are means to protect Australians from terrorist activities without a further slide in Australians’ rights to privacy.

We also know from Snowden that Australian citizens have had their data collected by organisations such as DSD and sent to the USA’s NSA. We also know that all phone companies allow the secret service access to their networks and many internet companies such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo allow secret services to collect their data. This is a massive and unnecessary intrusion. We wonder how anyone can make the surveillance even greater.

We draw your attention to following quote from the Snowden revelations in “No place to Hide” by Glenn Greenwald (page 122):

The Five Eyes relationship is so close that member governments place the NSA's desires above the privacy of their own citizens. The Guardian reported on one 2007 memo, for instance, describing an agreement that allowed the agency to 'unmask' and hold on to personal data about Britons that had previously been off limits: Additionally, the rules were changed in 2007 "to allow the NSA to analyse and retain any British citizens' mobile phone and fax numbers, emails and IP addresses swept up by its dragnet”'

Going a step further, in 2011 the Australian government explicitly pleaded with the NSA to "extend" their partnership and subject Australian citizens to greater surveillance. In a February 21 letter, the acting deputy director of Australia's Intelligence Defence Signals Directorate wrote to the NSA's Signals Intelligence Directorate, claiming that Australia "now face[s] a sinister and determined threat from 'home grown' extremists active both abroad and within Australia:' He requested increased surveillance on the communications of Australian citizens deemed suspicious by their government:

While we have invested significant analytic and collection effort of our own to find and exploit these communications, the difficulties we face in obtaining regular and reliable access to such communications impacts on our ability to detect and prevent terrorist acts and diminishes our capacity to protect the life and safety of Australian citizens and those our close friends and allies.

We have enjoyed a long and very productive partnership with NSA in obtaining minimised access to United States warranted collection against out highest value terrorist targets In Indonesia. This access has been critical to DSD's efforts to disrupt and contain the operational capabilities of terrorists in our region as highlighted by the recent arrest of fugitive Bali bomber Umar Patek.

We would very much welcome the opportunity to extend that partnership with NSA to cover the increasing number of Australians involved in international extremist activities - in particular Australians involved with AQAP.

The 2011 surveillance was unwarranted and illegal in its scope. The numbers of those spied on was in the hundreds of thousands while those fighting in Syria number at the most 150.  Based on all this evidence there is no need to increase the already excessive powers of the secret services.

There is no evidence, only speculation that a threat to Australia exists. Most comments from the Government and even the Opposition are about people coming back with military skills. This is not sufficient to trash our rights to privacy and to dissent.

The mark of country’s democracy is not how it treats those who agree with their government but in how it treats its dissidents. Clearly Australia does not have a good record here with a history of persecuting communists, social activists, CSG opponents, trade unionists and others.

In 2014 will the harassment of Australians from Moslem backgrounds become more widespread as a result of extension of security agency powers proposed by the Abbot Government?

We call on your Government to reject the headlong surge to trash our privacy. We ask you and your Government to stand up for our rights and reject this scare campaign about “jihadists”. We ask that you reject any legitimisation of secret service massive surveillance powers and the destruction of the privacy of innocent Australians.

Yours sincerely,



Denis Doherty
National Co-ordinator
Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition