Australian Signals Directorate won't become domestic snoops

Unauthorised leak of non-proposal referred to the Feds. Wait, what?

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The Australian Federal Police (AFP) says it's investigating the leak of sensitive government documents outlining a plan the government says doesn't exist and won't be implemented.

The Official Kerfuffle began when Australian Murdoch organ The Daily Telegraph published a story (unlinked because it's behind a paywall) alleging that public servants were proposing to give the sigint agency the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) power to spy on Australians in Australia.

Under its current arrangements, the ASD does not collect information on Australian citizens.

The Telegraph also reported that Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton wanted the ASD moved from the Department of Defence to his department.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation wrote on Sunday that it had confirmed the substance of the News Limited report.

The proposal, if it had existed, would have given the ASD a brief to access Australians' Internet services and banking information.

Members of Australia's opposition Labor party all-but-accused someone in the government of leaking the report to the Telegraph.

The government moved to squash the report.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop sent the ABC a statement saying “there is no such plan” and adding that she did not believe there is a “national security gap” that would justify the ASD becoming a local spy agency.

The secretaries of the three agencies involved – defence, home affairs, and the ASD – issued a joint statement denying that any such proposal existed.

“In relation to today’s media claim, there is no proposal to increase the ASD’s powers to collect intelligence on Australians or to covertly access their private data”, the statement said.

“The cyber security function entails protecting Australians from cyber-enabled crime and cyber-attacks, and not collecting intelligence on Australians. These are two distinct functions, technically and operationally”, the statement added.

The ABC added that Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty has referred the leak to AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin. ®

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