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Report: Australia offered to share data on ordinary citizens

Edward Snowden. (Freedom of the Press Foundation/YouTube)
Edward Snowden. (Freedom of the Press Foundation/YouTube)

CANBERRA, Australia, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Australia's spy agency offered to share data about citizens with key partners, a 2008 document revealed by U.S. secrets-leaker Edward Snowden indicated.

The document included notes of a discussion among Australia and four partners on whether to share "medical, legal or religious information," and raised concern among rights advocates that the intelligence agency, then-known as the Defense Signals Directorate, may have been operating beyond its legal mandate, the British publication The Guardian reported Sunday.

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The Australian intelligence agency, now called the Australian Signals Directorate, indicated it could share material without some of the privacy restraints imposed by other countries, the leaked document indicated.

"DSD can share bulk, unselected, unminimized [raw] metadata as long as there is no intent to target an Australian national," notes from an intelligence conference said. "Unintentional collection is not viewed as a significant issue."

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The DSD and its four intelligence-sharing partners -- the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, known as 5-Eyes -- discussed what could be shared under different jurisdictions during meeting in Britain in April 2008.

The document of meeting notes indicated Australia was open to pooling bulk data.

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Human rights attorney Geoffrey Robertson, in a commentary published in The Guardian, said if discussions described in the meeting memo took place, at least two sections of the 2001 Intelligence Services Act were violated. The act requires ministerial authorization if the data on an Australian citizen is involved, and that the citizen must be a "person of interest," such as someone involved in terrorism or organized crime.

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Since Snowden leaked the information about the massive surveillance programs at the U.S. National Security Agency to The Guardian and The Washington Post in May, global controversy has surrounded the revelations that intelligence-gathering agencies were collecting information about ordinary citizens without a warrant. Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum in August.

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