Australia’s privacy protections under the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA) Digital Communications Privacy Act have been severely eroded over the past few years.
The law, passed by the Howard government in 2001, had long protected internet users from snooping and tracking.
But it also made it a crime to access information without permission.
Since then, however, Australia has been subject to numerous investigations into the government’s use of mass surveillance in pursuit of political agendas.
A number of investigations have revealed the extent of government surveillance, including a massive, global, warrantless wiretapping program.
The latest is a joint investigation by Guardian Australia and the ABC and revealed that the ACT Government had ordered the interception of a large amount of metadata, the contents of emails, phone calls and internet browsing data, including the IP addresses and email addresses of those who communicated with Australians overseas.
The data included the email addresses and phone numbers of Australian citizens overseas.
This data was then used to track people and organisations abroad, including those who were critical of the Abbott government.
The ABC revealed that Australia had been secretly monitoring the communications of a number of international organisations, including Amnesty International, WikiLeaks and Amnesty International Australia.
The government has also been investigating the international activities of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which has a global network of stations.
The information collected from international organisations was then passed on to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), which was responsible for enforcing the laws in Australia.
In a statement on Monday, the Attorney-General’s Department said that it was not seeking to prosecute any Australians involved in the investigation.
The statement also said that there were no laws preventing the AFP from accessing data about Australian citizens in relation to foreign intelligence investigations.
It also pointed out that the ABC’s investigation had not revealed the existence of a mass surveillance program, and it did not consider that the Australian Government had engaged in a mass intelligence gathering operation.
However, the ABC has also received a number more requests to reveal the existence or extent of the data collection.
The AFP has told the ABC that there is no evidence of any Australian government activity to the contrary.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his ministers have also been subject for scrutiny of the law.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly denied that there was a mass spying operation, and he has refused to say whether the government had sought to target specific individuals in relation the investigation of the ABC.
In December, the Australian Greens’ senator Scott Ludlam told the Australian National Press Club that he had raised the issue with Mr Abbott, and that he felt he had been ignored by Mr Abbott.
“I told him, ‘You’re the Prime Minister, you can’t lie to us about mass surveillance, you’ve said it’s not going to be your thing, and you’ve told us to keep quiet about it’,” Senator Ludlam said.
“He said he would not do it, and I said, ‘Well, it’s about as close to a lie as you’re going to get’.” Mr Abbott also told the National Press Council in December that he believed there was no evidence that Australia was spying on other countries, but he denied the allegations made by the ABC in an interview with the ABC last month.
“We’ve had an ongoing program of national security activity in the past, including spying on people overseas and our overseas intelligence agencies, including overseas intelligence gathering,” Mr Abbott said.
The Department of Communications and Information Technology said that the ACMA had previously confirmed that the AFP had been authorised to collect metadata, including email addresses, phone numbers and internet protocol addresses, from the internet service providers that provide the telecommunications networks used by Australians.
It said the information was then transferred to the AFP for analysis.
“The AFP has a wide range of powers to collect, monitor and analyse telecommunications data including data on telephone call, internet protocol address and internet service provider,” the department said.
However the ABC also revealed that some of the intelligence gathered was being stored in Australia, as the information could be accessed by US law enforcement agencies.
The US Justice Department is currently investigating the activities of a group called the Coalition for Cyber Security, which was created by former US president George W Bush in 2009.
The organisation’s mission is to lobby politicians in Washington for the “enhancement of cybersecurity” and support for the US’s cyber-warfare strategy.
The group is believed to have been behind the leak of the National Security Agency’s hacking tools to the Guardian and The Washington Post.
The Australian Government is also under scrutiny for the use of intelligence gathering to track down the whereabouts of a whistleblower who is currently on trial for leaking classified information to the media.
The whistleblower, Alan Jones, who worked as a researcher for the Government Communications Security Bureau, was charged with espionage and breach of trust after the US National Security Archive released his information.
He was detained in Sydney and held in solitary confinement, and is currently due to appear in the Supreme Court in November. ABC/