Australia’s spy agency chief Rachel Noble has defended the need to collect intelligence on Australians for SIGNIT and cyber security operations, as “not all Australians are the good guys”.
In an address to the Australian National University’s National Security College today, the director-general of the Australian Signals Directorate, who stepped into the role last December, will point out ASD's role in collecting intelligence on Australians has been unchanged since 2001.
It comes as the government prepares to empower ASD to further assist the Australian Federal Police to identify and disrupt individuals engaging in serious criminal activity on the dark web.
“For more than 20 years ASD‘s role in relation to intelligence collection against Australians has been laid bare on the face of legislation,” she will say.
“It is hardly a modern revelation that ASD has this role.
“Transparency is not a new feature of our story - some people may have just forgotten what has already been said over many years.
“And I’m sorry if this is news to you, but not all Australians are the good guys.”
Under the Intelligence Services Bill, which passed in October 2001, ASD can collect intelligence on Australians overseas who pose a threat under its legislated functions.
It may also assist federal and state authorities when matters concern the “security and integrity of information and in relation to cryptography and communications technologies”.
But before any intelligence collection or other activities relating to Australian persons takes place, written ministerial authorisation must be obtained, Noble will stress.
These authorisations “cannot exceed six months duration unless renewed by the minister”, she will say.
The legislation also introduced statutory requirements surrounding the “retention of intelligence information concerning Australians and Australian corporations” for the first time.
“This was a major cultural change,” Noble, who first joined ASD as a code breaker - a job she openly admits she did not like “at all” - in the 90s, will say.
“Under the old regime, an infraction of an Australian’s right to privacy could have been treated as an error of policy or administration, and dealt with accordingly.
“Now, it was contrary to law.”
But despite ASD’s powers to collect intelligence on Australians overseas who pose a threat, Noble will stress the agency has no remit to “conduct mass surveillance on Australians”.
“I want to underscore this point when it comes to intelligence collection and cyber offensive operations, ASD is a foreign intelligence agency,” she will say.
“It is a matter for ASIO to concern itself with Australians who may pose a threat to our way of life.
“ASD cannot, under law, conduct mass surveillance on Australians, nor has it ever sought to.”
Noble said that where functions have been added in the past, these have been informed by “carefully considered conversations about how to manage contemporary threats, including whether the management of such threats might ultimately involve legislative change”.
She said ASD’s most intrusive powers are aimed at Australia's adversaries for its three core missions: to generate foreign signals intelligence, protect Australia from cyber threats and conduct offensive cyber operations.
“We do have intrusive powers and we certainly have very intrusive capabilities,” she will say.