An Australian journalist who blew the whistle about government spying abuses has had her home raided by police, with an ominous chilling message being sent to those who expose government wrongdoing.
An article published by The Daily Telegraph, titled “Spying shock: Shades of Big Brother as cyber-security vision comes to light,” chronicled a discussion that occurred between two government bureaucracies where they talked about the possibility of sweeping new surveillance powers for the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), their nation’s equivalent of the NSA.
The whistle-blowing article also included photos of leaked internal writings that outlined a proposal to target Australians with invasive spying measures. These were top secret documents showing warrantless spying proposals that the Australian government wanted to keep under wraps.
The new proposed program would also give hackers at the ASD the ability to “proactively disrupt and covertly remove” supposed threats to cybersecurity by “hacking into critical infrastructure.” Nobody’s records would be safe if Defence and Home Affairs ministers were to approve this proposal.
For exposing this information, journalist Annika Smethurst’s home was raided by law enforcement on Tuesday. The whistle-blower, in similar fashion to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, is paying a price for releasing information that paints the government in a negative light despite it clearly being in the public interest.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) admits that it conducted the raid and stands by their actions. They said in a statement that it did so in connection “to an investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of national security information.”
They claim that the journalist and her sources were responsible for a national security breach but “no arrests are expected…as a result of this activity.” They have not taken the option of conducting arrests off the table though.
“The Australian public’s right to know information about government laws that could impact their lives is of fundamental importance in our society,” said News Corp Australia, the parent corporation of the Telegraph, in response to the raid.
“We need to have a debate about Australians’ rights to privacy and security, and it needs to be held out in the open with the participation of civil society,” said a spokesperson for Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), a privacy rights watchdog NGO, to Business Insider Australia.
“Exposing the government’s secret plans for yet more surveillance of our everyday lives is clearly in the public interest. This heavy-handed reaction from the government, and so soon after being returned to government after an expected loss, indicates that this is about consolidating power, not keeping us safe. That should scare anyone who wants Australia to be a free society,” the EFA spokesperson added.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the raid with classic Orwellian double-speak.
“Australia believes strongly in the freedom of the press and we have clear rules and protections for freedom of the press,” Morrison said, as reported by ABC. “There are also clear rules protecting Australia’s national security and everybody should operate in accordance with all of those laws passed by our Parliament.
“I support the powers that the agencies have under our laws,” he added.
As libertarian Judge Andrew Napolitano once said: “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.” Expect more governments to crackdown on legitimate journalists and leakers as they become more desperate to suppress information in the digital age.