There are innumerable books, movies, podcasts, and TV shows that discuss and dramatize the roles of intelligence services during the Cold War. Comparatively few of those media, however, discuss Canada’s role during the same period. Molinaro’s edited volume, The Bridge in the Parks: The Five Eyes and Cold War Counter-Intelligence, goes a way to correcting this deficiency by including five chapters on Canada,1 as well as post-script, in a nine chapter book about Cold War counter-intelligence practices.
The Bridge in the Parks is written by historians who have used archival research and access to information laws to unearth information about a variety of Five Eye security services. The aim of the text as a whole is to “add nuance to what has often been a polarizing historical field in which scholars are forced to choose between focusing on abuses and the overreach of intelligence agencies in the Cold War or discussing successfully prosecuted individuals cases of counter-intelligence. This volume thus seeks to add complexity to this history, more in line with the “grey” world in which counter-intelligence has often existed” (8). On the whole, the book is successful in achieving this aim.
Last month a paper that I wrote with Adam Molnar and Erik Zouave was published by Internet Policy Review. The article, “Computer network operations and ‘rule-with-law’ in Australia,” explores how the Australian government is authorized to engage in Computer Network Operations (CNOs). CNOs refer to government intrusion and/or interference with network information communications infrastructures for the purposes of law enforcement and national security operations.
The crux of our argument is that Australian government agencies are relatively unconstrained in how they can use CNOs. This has come about because of overly permissive, and often outdated, legislative language concerning technology that has been leveraged in newer legislation that expands on the lawful activities which government agencies can conduct. Australian citizens are often assured that existing oversight or review bodies — vis a vis legislative assemblies or dedicated surveillance or intelligence committees — are sufficient to safeguard citizens’ rights. We argue that the laws, as currently written, compel review and oversight bodies to purely evaluate the lawfulness of CNO-related activities. This means that, so long as government agencies do not radically act beyond their already permissive legislative mandates, their oversight and review bodies will assert that their expansive activities are lawful regardless of the intrusive nature of the activities in question.
While the growing capabilities of government agencies’ lawful activities, and limitations of their review and oversight bodies, have commonalities across liberal democratic nations, Australia is in a particularly novel position. Unlike its closest allies, such as Canada, the United States, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom, Australia does not have a formal bill of rights or a regional judicial body to adjudicate on human rights. As we write, “[g]iven that government agencies possess lawful authority to conduct unbounded CNO operations and can seek relatively unbounded warrants instead of those with closely circumscribed limits, the rule of law has become distorted and replaced with rule of law [sic]”.
Ultimately, CNOs represent a significant transformation and growth of the state’s authority to intrude and affect digital information. That these activities can operate under a veil of exceptional secrecy and threaten the security of information systems raises questions about whether the state has been appropriately restrained in exercising its sovereign powers domestically and abroad: these powers have the capability to extend domestic investigations into the computers of persons around the globe, to facilitate intelligence operations that target individuals and millions of persons alike, and to damage critical infrastructure and computer records. As such, CNOs necessarily raise critical questions about the necessity and appropriateness of state activities, while also showcasing the state’s lack of accountability to the population is is charged with serving.
Read the “Computer network operations and ‘rule-with-law’ in Australia” at Internet Policy Review.
Rather than talk about the FBI’s desire to patrol the Internet backbone, have your laptop searched without warrant or any particular reason when facing US Customs officers, or Microsoft’s Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor (COFEE), I want to quickly talk about the Australian government’s desire to give law enforcement and corporate IT the power to monitor and inspect any and all electronic employee communications. What is most concerning is that it continues an Australian trend to insert American attitudes into common-law.
Terrorism Down Under
I don’t want to come off seeming as though I think terrorism is a small or unimportant issue. It’s not – terrorism is a very real issue, and it has incredible financial and human costs. That said, whenever someone mentions either children or terrorism as a justification for a new piece of legislation that would dramatically extend the surveillance powers of public and private actors, I immediately want to know just how invasive those new powers might be. Whereas Australian law presently only allows security companies and those dealing with the government to survey communications without permission, after a four year fight to revise the Telecommunications Interceptions Act the government may be successful in extending those surveillance powers. If the amendments are passed, all corporate IT groups will be able to survey employees’ digital communciations. The government’s reason for extending the surveillance powers is that, by monitoring workers’ emails, it will be possible to stop/deploy coercion towards those who would;
attack to disable computer networks that sustained the financial system, stock exchange, electricity grid and transport system “[and would consequently] reap far greater economic damage than would be the case of a physical [terrorist] attack”. (Source)