back to article Internet use ‘rampant’: ASIO boss

Australia’s national security is at risk, according to the Director-General of ASIO – the Australian National Intelligence Organisation – partly because of “rampant use of the Internet”. Honestly, I’m not making it up. It’s in a speech delivered by D-G David Irvine to the Security in Government Conference at the end of July. …


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Internally Inconsistent

Really? To say on one hand that the security agencies see the world differently, and then to pronounce something they've said something seems odd, leaves me at a loss for words.

The Internet has allowed a balkanisation of opinion that propagates a degree of extremism that is the stuff of nightmares. People with extreme views have historically found themselves isolated within their communities; without a community to help them elaborate their views. The internet has allowed an almost unlimited range of views to prosper.

As this article points out, we (humans) have tended to take advantage of communication capabilities. Historically, our communications been limited by geography, but the Internet is the first *democratised* medium that effectively removes geography as an impediment to communication.

For the first time in history, a huge swathe of the global population has the *potential* to be heard globally, no matter how silly, frightening, unique, or banal, their views are.

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Not to mention

a similarly sized swathe of the global population with the *potential* to be heard globally, no matter how sensible, calm, unique, or perceptive, their views are.

The standard deviation goes both sides of the mean!


@Richard Cottrill -- So what? Isn't this just democracy at work?

"For the first time in history, a huge swathe of the global population has the *potential* to be heard globally, no matter how silly, frightening, unique, or banal, their views are."

So what? Isn't this just democracy at work?

Perhaps technology has given democracy a much-needed shot in the arm.

Perhaps, too, the 'old democracy'--'owned' for over 200 years by notable ratbags such as Edmund Burke, Tony Blair, John Howard, Julia Gillard et al is going the way of the dodo by giving way to a newer MK-II model.

In case you've forgotten, Edmund Burke (1729-97) was notable for setting in concrete the slimy deceitful way politicians have done business for the past couple of centuries. When elected to parliament by the electors of Bristol in 1774 Burke's acceptance speech strongly favoured representative government over that which was expect of him as their elected delegate.

Instead of doing what he promised and what is electors wanted, he used 'national interest' arguments to override and discard promises he made to his electorate. Whilst Bristol electors booted him out next election, since then, sleazy politicians have had a fielday at their elector's expense by lapping up this infamous Burkian argument. Going against electors' wishes is now a commonplace norm for politicians.

The Internet and the ordinary citizen's ability to bypass or 'neutralize' their politicians has, in some small part, redressed the problem. Nowadays, politicians are more mindful than ever about what the electorate is thinking.

Of course, if you don't like what the ratbag rabble electorate is saying and doing then you may wish to contemplate another system of government altogether.

Totalitarianism perhaps?

Seems, too, ASIO's Irving is having similar thoughts.

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I agree entirely. I doubt that Mr Irvine had those views in mind though.


@Graham Wilson - I think you've got ASIO backwards.

I think it's not citizens talking about changing the government democratically that bothers Mr Irvine; but people who wish to act in a manner which is not democratic (especially involving violence). Before 9/11, and similar, ASIO used to spend a lot of their time running after skinheads - the end of the Cold War limited their opportunities to find other political organisations with tendencies towards violence - ASIO's brief.

Instead of assuming that ASIO are after people whingeing about their local MP, it's safer to assume ASIO are hunting people who would install a totalitarian regime.

I accept there's a certain irony in a secretive government organisation spying on its citizens, to uphold democracy.


@Richard Cottrill's reply--Perhaps I have but the events of this week suggest otherwise.

Perhaps I have but the events of this week suggest otherwise.

(My long-winded post was deemed too long by the editing system so it'll have to wait until I edit it, that's if I bother).

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It's a sad, but true, fact ...

Politicians[1] hate the concept of individuals having access to enough information to make intelligent choices/decisions. It is a threat to them, for obvious reasons.

Why do you think that the first place the Western World[2] makes governmental budget cuts is in educating youf?

Open your eyes, people, and vote accordingly.

[1] Religion is, in my mind, just another political thingie.

[2] The non-western world already has a handle on keeping TheGreatUnwashed[tm] as ignorant as possible.

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@jake -- Correct, especially education in matters of democracy, citizenry and one's governance.

...And why would they bother?

After all, your extra knowledge would further threaten their power base.

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With those sorts of views from its leader, ASIO's going to love the coming of the NBN when we can all swap our unfettered and radical views squillions of times faster.

Hark, what's that noise I hear overhead...


ASIO's David Irvine -- A Translation.

Quoting from Irvine's speech:

1. "Non-state actors are assuming greater importance in national security considerations; be they Islamic terrorists, cyber hackers, transnational criminals, or people-smugglers."

READ: 'And to get them, we'll have to hold the rest of you doubly under the thumb. We can't discriminate, now can we? Anyway, bugger your democratic rights (that's the way we like it).'

2. "The rampant use of the internet, the democratisation of communication, has resulted in new and effective means for individuals to propagate and absorb unfettered ideas and information and to be radicalised – literally, in their lounge rooms."

READ: 'The normal system of state-controlled propaganda is breaking down, we'd urgently better try another approach before the rabble gets an irreversible taste for too many additional freedoms.'

3. "Information and communications technology is now often progressing faster than the accompanying legal and regulatory framework that governs its use in any one country, meaning the gap is widening between current ICT capability, and the controls and frameworks governments rely on effectively to use that capability for law enforcement or security purposes."

READ: If too many experience the freedom that the Internet provides then we'll have a damn hard job putting the genie back in the bottle. As it is, we're already chasing genie around the room and it's already too tiring for us fat lazy public servants.'

4. "Nation states, as well as disaffected individuals and groups, are able to use computer networks to view or exfiltrate sensitive, private, or classified information for the purposes of espionage, political or diplomatic gain, or commercial advantage."

READ: 'The hackers are and always have been smarted than us. We're probably going to have to do a lot of footwork or we might eventually lose our jobs. However, it's nice to know that we don't have to worry about investigating corporations A,B & C. They currently run the country, so in reality they're already our masters.'

5. "Our increasing reliance on communications technology to conduct the business of government, of daily commerce and of living our daily lives opens up vulnerabilities to malicious attack for criminal or other purposes."

READ: Despite good security advice nearly two decades ago, we in government found implementing it was far too onerous. For starters, PCs we'd have to use in the government environment might have to work more like terminals attached to a mainframe. Developing a mainframe type security mentality and a more structured work environment is not conducive to futzing and or playing games on our PCs. And besides we're hopelessly addicted to our PCs, and to YouTube, Facebook etc. which would all have to go in a secure IT environment. Even texting might be a security risk, and we'd rather die than give that up.'

6. "Globalisation has made possible, and complicated, a new rash of policy issues that governments did not have to consider in as serious a manner until relatively recently. Here I’m talking about the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction, the uncontrolled movement of people from unstable, poor countries to stable, democratic, prosperous ones, governed by the rule of law and respect for human rights; climate change, which has threatened our traditional assumptions about life and development; the threat of pandemics (as evidenced in recent times by the avian and swine flus); the international drug trade; and, of course, terrorism."

READ: 'We acquiesced and rolled over to the large corporations and other proponents of totally free trade even though we're far from being on a level playing field. These international players come and go as they please, so do their sycophants and anyone else they please. For over 50 or more years, we've bowed to all sorts of special interest groups, especially those from overseas. The told us we needed 'affirmative action' here there and everywhere in a multitude of spheres and we really didn't have the resilience to resist them. Now they run the country and we're their lackeys.

Oh, and as part of this international arse-licking, we've also signed just about every and any international treaty and trade agreement that's been on offer since about WW-II, irrespective of whether it's in our own interest or not. Some treaties go back to the 19th C. but we've absolutely no interest in seeing how relevant they still are today. Besides, it'd be a tragedy if we failed to sign our sovereignty away to nearly every treaty going, as afterward at the big celebratory party, we'd miss out wanking with all the other international dignitaries. Still, we've some worrying niggling concerns about them--as for hundreds of years, entering into, signing treaties and giving our sovereignty away under them has been the strict province of the Government executive and privileged hangers-on. Recently, however, there's worrying signs that the great mass of unwashed swill are taking an interest in such matters and some have the damn hide to hint that they want certain treaty provisions changed. Urgently, we must quell such rebellious and treasonous notions before our world and whole way of life caves in.'

There's more translation still to come but I've yet to receive my fee.


This is an article about nothing.

What a fool. You've taken two words, "rampant" and "unfettered" and ascribed to them a single meaning when English is a language where words often have shades of meaning (I took his meaning to be "violent and (personally) unrestrained", whereas you seem to have taken away "commonplace and (regulatory) unrestricted". Can you see the difference?).

But worse, you have hung on these words an entire article that grossly misrepresents the speech as a whole, and injected a healthy dose of your own biases and prejudices. This is rubbish journalism usually reserved for the worst of tabloid crap (the kind much in the news lately), and is unworthy of the usual quality of The Register.

The speech noted that the security paradigm has changed significantly with the advent the Internet. For Christ's sake, it is a perfectly reasonable and intelligent (although by its nature, brief and shallow) analysis of the threats and challenges facing Australian security services!

The article also should have pointed out the forum of the speech, which would have given the reader an appropriate context. The fact it didn't is also poor journalism. The Security in Government Conference is for those responsible for the physical, communication and information security of government agencies. Their jobs are not to protect Joe Citizen nor Australia directly.

Put most simply, he said that threats are no longer state sponsored or organised by the conspiracy of a group. Threatening actions against government agencies can now be spontaneously generated (see Lulsec and the Arab Spring) via the Internet or social media. It no longer needs a leader or figurehead. It doesn't need a great deal of time to implement or a great deal of advance preparation. All these areas have been a point of exploitation in the past for security agencies, but can no longer be relied upon.

And having hung your argument on an unexceptional quote that stated the bleeding obvious, did the head of ASIO blame these communication devices for desiminating "bad ideas" and advocate restrictions, or information firewalls, or any other draconian measure you think a luddite like David Irvine would enact?

No, he said government departments, agencies and organisations needed to cooperate with each other and the private sector to protect assets and infrastructure (bearing in mind he was speaking to the leaders of security of said departments, agencies and organisations) and work with those community groups who were vulnerable to violence and hate speech in order to help them to become "resilient" to such speech. Not, you should note, keep such speech away from them.

So bravo Mr Chirgwin, you misrepresented what he said and then gave the reader your solution, which was exactly the solution that David Irvine proposed (only his was better thought out and presented). This article could almost be a textbook definition of a Strawman argument. Are you looking for a job at News Corp, as I know there have been vacancies opening up there over the past few weeks? With this in your portfolio you could tick a few more of those qualification boxes.

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It would be interesting to know ...

... the IP address of the AC. Methinks 'twould prove telling.

Paid .gov shills have a very particular ASCII stench ;-)


@Anonymous Coward--Perhaps you shouldn't blame Chirgwin...

...but rather blame the likes of me who, invariably, are guaranteed to bite in response to such articles.

We illicitly steal bottles of hyperbole from professionals, stupidly splash it everywhere, then rightly look like the fools that we are.

Anyway, you're a pretty game bloke if you're trying to make sense out of a highly-charged political article that's somehow found its way into an IT publication. It's guaranteed to mean the recipe will end up with proportions of sense - 0%, mayhem - 100%.

You've heard of monkeys with typewriters haven't you?

Well, it's only day 5 or so, so don't expect the Bard's collected works to pop out any day soon.


@jake - I'll bite.

You are entitled to think that about an AC, and you'll never really know for sure. Only El Reg will know. So you can either take my word for it or not.

I am currently paid by the government, but not employed by them. I currently receive a pension from my government, whether that is a student, unemployment, disability, retirement or other benefit is my business. But technically, my government pays me.

I have never been employed by my government in any capacity. I have always been employed by private companies, who to my knowledge haven't even provided services to the government.

I don't know David Irvine, I have no idea whether he does a good job or not. I can't say for certain if ASIO does a good job or not, and they probably like it that way.

I have always been critical of the self-interested obfuscation of governments and the casual way they say "protect" when they mean "control". My many comments here on The Reg have said as much.

But shoddy journalism is shoddy journalism. I am no more tolerant of it here than I would be in a Murdoch rag, nor because I believe that my politics would broadly agree with that of the author's.

The article was shit. I say that because I believe it to be true, not because I am being told to say it. Any objective reading of the original speech and comparison with the article would probably agree. The author selected a two words (TWO WORDS!) from the speech and concocted an argument based on nothing.

There was nothing in Irvine's speech that you could take too much exception to (which Chirgwin says in the article). He didn't condemn the Internet and mobile phones (as Chirgwin seems to imply), he simply said they present challenges and difficulties for security protecting people and assets from threats. It's a statement of the obvious. Yet Chirgwin interpreted "rampant" and "unfettered" as an attack on the Internet and communication devices, and accused ASIO and Irvine in particular as "myopic". Talk about pots...

The final paragraph of the article advocates that good ideas cancel out the detructive ones. FFS, Jake, that is exactly what David Irvine said in his speech! His whole basic premise was that security people (government and private) should cooperate better (bleeding obvious) and that we should engage with vulnerable groups to help make them more resilient and resistant to those who peddle violence and hate (good ideas over bad). He didn't advocate restricting speech or access to communication devices, or filtering the Internet or increasing public surveillance. If (IF!) he is genuine we can only hope that more heads of security services and governments were more like him.

Poor journalism should be criticised no matter where in the political spectrum it falls, and whether or not we happen to agree broadly with its sentiments. It is no more acceptable on "our side" than it is on one of Murdoch's political tools.

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@AC 12:00

"Poor journalism should be criticised"

Uh ... dude/tte ... Last time I looked, this ElReg thang is a redtop. Anyone who reads it for education, as opposed to for entertainment, needs their heads examining.

And would it really be all that hard to create a handle that the rest of us could filter on, you long-winded git?


ASIO: The Enemy Inside

ASIO is similar to KGB in that it was created to spy on its own people (Austarlians) to ensure the right wing government would stay in power. This is well documented in a book "ASIO: The Enemy Inside". It is sickening to know what this very power organisation gets up to in Australia to its own people.

One of the most interesting things I read in this book however was that it was formed illegally by the Prime Minister at the time at the request of Engang and US and funded without permission from parliemnt which is required by our constitution. Also the original constitution for the illegal entity ASIO was written using American spelling. Makes you wonder.

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