National security matter: Third agency caught unilaterally blocking web sites

The Federal Government has acknowledged that a third agency, beyond ASIC and the Australian Federal Police, has been using the Telecommunications Act to unilaterally block certain websites, with bureaucrats refusing to disclose which agency was involved, apart from stating that the issue was a national security matter.

In Budget Estimates hearings last night in Canberra, broadband department deputy secretary Abul Rizvi revealed under questioning by Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam that a third agency, “in the Attorney-General’s portfolio” was also using the notices to order websites blocked.

However, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy interjected in the questioning and refused to answer further questions about which specific agency or department was involved, requesting that Ludlam pose his questions on the issue to the Attorney-General’s Department directly.

In a separate hearing this morning, Ludlam posed similar questions to the AFP about the issue, at a hearing attended by bureaucrats from the Attorney-General’s Department, such as departmental secretary Roger Wilkins. There’s one other agency also using it, Ludlam said. The full video is available online. Could someone at the table illuminate me as to who that is?

Wilkins replied: We don’t comment on national security matters, Senator. Ludlam replied that he hadn’t asked whether the website blocking was a national security matter. It is a national security matter; we’re not commenting on it, Wilkins added.

The comment is likely to raise fears that spy agency the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation was the agency involved in the blocking activity, as it falls under the purview of the Attorney-General’s Department. However there are also a large number of other agencies under that portfolio; listed here on the website of the department — via redwolf.newsvine.com

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