Disturbing News for Democracy

As you read this post, please bear in mind that I am certainly not a Greens supporter. If you want to read about my political convictions, check out this post.

I am fundamentally disturbed at suggestions the Federal Government may have authorised or participated in the covert surveillance on a member of the Federal Parliament. Scott Ludlam, a Greens Senator from Western Australia and the Greens spokesperson on Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy, has said his phone might have been hacked during his recent time with cyberpunk Jacob Appelbaum.

Appelbaum is variously described as a hacker and an ‘independent’ security researcher. He has been associated with Wikileaks and is perhaps best known for regularly being stopped by US authorities when entering that country. He was in Australia to speak at a conference called War on the Internet, alongside Crikey writer Bernard Keane and Ludlam.

Crikey‘s Andrew Crook and Ludlam take up the story:

“I was Jacob’s chaperone back from Ballarat to Melbourne for the forum … and I discovered first thing in the morning that the battery was being chewed through freakishly quickly,” Ludlam told Crikey. ”I needed to put another other charge on it by about 10 or 10.30 in the morning. So it was being eaten up two or three times faster than normal.”

Appelbaum explained his phone may have been “off”, in the language of the intelligence services.

“That’s one symptom if the transmitter’s been switched on remotely so it’s basically broadcasting whatever it’s hearing … that would be one reason the battery was being chewed up,” Ludlam said. ”I wouldn’t have thought much about it, except for the fact that I’ve been spending quite a bit of time recently around people that who are actually surveilled.”

If the Government decide they need to keep tabs on Appelbaum while he’s in Australia, fine. I am most concerned that they did it by tracking an elected government member. If Ludlam was tracked, it is a severe slap in the face to any vestige of free and representative government and it is an insult to democracy. Various academics and others have suggested our democracy is corrupt in any number of ways, not least because of the interference of lobbyists, but this type of action is rarely discussed. The main reason for that lack of discussion is probably that, if it occurs, it is well-covered.

Ludlam doesn’t appear to be worried about the possible consequences of speaking to Crikey, and the Fairfax press has since picked up on the story as well. That, at least, is positive. If this type of behaviour is discussed in public, we have a better chance of eradicating it.

Tell me what you think. Is it likely Ludlam was surveilled by our government? If so, do you think this has serious consequences for Australian democracy?