ASIO has made clear it is against journalists afforded any form of immunity in the new laws as it seeks to secure overseas intelligence from their mobile phones, emails and data storage if it believes reports are not in the public interest.
The Australian Federal Police has told federal parliament charges against News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC’s Sam Clark and Dan Oakes over a series of unrelated reports were still actively being considered.
This is despite the High Court ruling the warrant for its raid on Smethurst’s home almost a year ago invalid. The raids sparked an unprecedented protest.
The revelation came during Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Joint Committee review of amendments to telephone intercept laws to allow Australian authorities access to live streamed or stored data held in the United States where most social media platforms such as Facebook, Apple, Google and WhatsApp are held.
The committee had heard evidence from police and other authorities that criminal investigations were being significantly hampered by current laborious laws, that took up to two years for each investigation to secure.
“If new legislation were introduced, there are current investigations where we would move to utilise the changes in the legislation to greater effect,” AFP Deputy Commissioner of Specialist and Support Operations Karl Kent said, but declined to confirm if the journalists’ matters were among them.
Senator Kristine Keneally asked whether or not police were waiting for this particular new data access to come into effect before proceeding with those investigations to which the AFP would not confirm.
However speaking at the same inquiry the AFP’s deputy commissioner of investigations Ian McCartney did say despite one year of digging, a probe into all three journalists continued.
“That investigation is still ongoing and it’s still under consideration,” he said three times for whether charges against each journalist was pending.
He did reveal however no other journalists were under investigation for the reports; other journalists were set to be questioned for other reports at the instigation of Home Affairs.
Smethurst’s home was raided by the AFP after a report in (The Sunday Telegraph) revealed the Home Affairs and Defence departments’ plans to expand the powers of the Australian Signals Directorate to secretly access data in Australia and overseas. The ABC’s Sydney headquarters were raided days later over an unrelated report on alleged war crimes by clandestine Australian Defence Force special forces operations in Afghanistan in 2014.
In other evidence to parliament, ASIO’s Deputy Director-General, Enterprise Service Delivery Peter Vickery said he did not necessarily think journalists should be afforded special protections in the new data interception laws, as had been suggested by the agency’s watchdog the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.
“I would say in relation to journalism or, indeed, any profession, that ASIO’s point of view is that we have potential concerns if carve-outs are made in relation to a particular class of persons based purely on their profession,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, obviously ASIO will work with the legislation as it’s passed.”