The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has renewed its outsourcing contract with a Melbourne firm that specialises in gathering intelligence on activist groups from social networks and the web.
The agency last month inked a one-year, $92,400 contract with the National Open Source Intelligence Centre (NOSIC), extending a string of direct-sourced contracts since 2002.
NOSIC, which is operated by a couple out of a Melbourne apartment, provides internet monitoring and analysis of groups engaged in ''radical activism, criminal (terrorist) activity or unlawful behaviour''.
It targets groups or protestors that the AFP believed would disrupt or harm politicians, foreign dignitaries or diplomats.
Neither police nor NOSIC would reveal details of the latest contract. Previous deals have included a $15,400, one-month contract linked to US President Barack Obama's visit to Australia in 2011.
The "open source" aspect of the company's name pertains to the collection of publically available information, including that gleaned from social networks and other websites.
Such information is collected by the AFP in its case management system, effectively giving those suspected of being involved in a protest group aimed at a particular dignitary a police record.
The AFP did not reveal how much data it had collected through NOSIC so far.
Police confirmed it had outsourced the services to NOSIC without market test for the past decade as it was the “only company who could provide the specialised open source service” the agency required.
The AFP's relationship with NOSIC has come under fire from the Greens in recent Senate hearings, of late, with senators Scott Ludlam and Lee Rhiannon grilling the agency on the contracts.
Senator Ludlam asked in February whether the agency had engaged in entrapment of protestors through fake social network profiles or fictitious names.
In response, the AFP said it did "not engage NOSIC to create any Facebook page/s for the purpose of entrapment or engaging the activist community, nor does NOSIC offer or provide such a service".
"The contract currently stipulates that no information is to be collected unlawfully or obtained by clandestine or covert means."
The hearings prompted the AFP to release a standard contract signed on multiple occasions with NOSIC under each renewal, revealing the group would indemnify the police against any liability in collecting the information while under the contract.
Among other activist groups, NOSIC has been found to track environmental protestors, including those opposed to coal seam gas deployments.
An AFP spokeswoman told iTnews that the latest contract was "not undertaken because of a particular event or to discover information relating to a particular person".
"The AFP did not renew its contract with NOSIC in order to 'target' any particular group," she said.
Additional reporting by James Hutchinson.
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