Security

Australia considered giving U.S. and others raw intelligence data

Looks like Edward Snowden is blowing the whistle on Australia’s government now.

A 2008 document provided to the Guardian suggests that Australia was considering providing “un-minimized” metadata to its intelligence partners to help develop their intelligence projects.

The document was part of an April 2008 meeting of “5-Eyes” at the U.K.’s intelligence agency GCHQ’s main offices, according to the Guardian. “5-Eyes” is an intelligence partnership between the U.S., Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In this document, Australia considers providing the untouched information to 5-Eyes but has concerns over Canadian privacy rules dictating that data on citizens of Canada must be minimized first.

“Bulk, unselected metadata presents too high a risk to share with second parties at this time because of the requirement to ensure that the identities of Canadians or persons in Canada are minimized, but re-evaluation is ongoing,” the document reads.

Un-minimized data is simply data that hasn’t been cleaned of identifying information about a person. Australia’s then-named Defense Signals Directorate (DSD) notes in the document that, “DSD can share bulk, unselected, un-minimized metadata as long as there is no intent to target an Australian national — unintentional collection is not viewed as a significant issue.”

That last bit has some concerned that the Australian government is also collecting wide swaths of citizen information in the same way the NSA collects information about U.S. citizens. Metadata can paint a fairly detailed picture about who a person talks to, what a person does, what their interests are, and more. Having that information without your knowledge in your government’s hands is one concern, but giving it to other countries creates even more privacy implications.

Transferring that data can be dangerous if the systems through which the data flows are not secured correctly.

The DSD notes that if any further action on Australian citizens is desired, that country would have to formally request more information or ask Australia to use that data.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen two intelligence partners sharing un-minimized data. In September, we learned that the U.S. provided raw data to Israel with the same understanding that Israel would not use the information to target U.S. persons. Israel promised not to “task communications of U.S. citizens” and further promised to “protect U.S. information.”