Wednesday, 27 August 2014 16:50

Metadata like looking up a phone book, says chief spook Featured


ASIO boss David Irvine has defended the accessing of Internet and mobile phone metadata as akin to looking up a number in the phone book in the old days.

ASIO’s director general is being increasingly seen in public to defend his organisation’s increasing powers. In his most significant public appearance to date he gave an address Wednesday morning to the Australian Press Club.

In his talk he said it was impractical to get a warrant every time ASIO or another agency wanted to access ISP or telco metadata, because the volumes were so high that law enforcement would come to a halt.

The comment indicates that ASIO wants to access a large volume of metadata. Access will not be an occasional thing, it will be commonplace. Many critics of the Government’s data retention plans have called for warrants as the only way users of the system can be held accountable.

Barrister Brett Walker, who retired as the Independent National Security Monitor after the Abbott Government abolished the post in April, said recently that access to customer information such as metadata should require a warrant, just as access to bank account details does.

Irvine said at the Press Club that he did not want Australians to panic, or let terrorism and the response to it “dominate our lives’’. He went to lengths to point out that the comparatively small number of Australian Muslims fighting overseas were not representative of the Australian Muslim community.

“The tiny number of violent extremists, who nevertheless can make a rather big bang, does not represent the Islamic communities of Australia. We’re talking about a few hundred aberrant souls in the community of half a million Muslims and it is grossly unfair to blame Australian Muslims who see themselves as a committed component of Australia’s multicultural society.

“Not all of Australians currently in Iraq and Syria will return but some tens of Australians have already returned and a good number of these remain of concern to the security authorities.” That was why the Government, and ASIO, need more powers, he said.

Perhaps one of the reasons Irvine is making so many appearances is that he retires in a few weeks, on 14 September, after a distinguished career as a diplomat and head of external security service ASIS. He will be replaced by Duncan Lewis, a former SAS commander, diplomat and senior defence bureaucrat.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire. He is one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’

He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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