National Security

Commonwealth riddled with CCP spyware, spy balloons | Transcript 3AW

February 9, 2023

Thursday 9 February 2023
Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW
Subjects: Commonwealth riddled with CCP spyware, spy balloons

NEIL MITCHELL: The government problem was revealed after an audit organised by Liberal Senator, a man who has often expressed concern about this, is Senator for Victoria, Shadow Minister for Cyber Security and Countering Foreign Interference, Senator James Paterson. Good morning.

JAMES PATERSON: Good morning, Neil. Thanks for your interest in this important story.

MITCHELL: Well, thank you for your time. Why are the cameras at risk? Why are they a national security risk?

PATERSON: There are a couple of issues here, Neil. There have been vulnerabilities identified with these cameras in the past where third parties could take full control over them and get the audio and video collected by them. But most importantly, these companies have a very close relationship with the Chinese Communist Party, and they are subject to China's National Intelligence laws, which require all Chinese companies and individuals to secretly cooperate with Chinese intelligence agencies if requested. So we would have no way of

knowing for sure if these cameras are being used to transfer sensitive information, images and audio ultimately straight back to the Chinese government.

MITCHELL: Can you tell us where they are?

PATERSON: Unfortunately, I can tell you there are at least 913, but probably more because some departments and agencies that I asked as part of this audit were only able to tell me that they definitely had them, but not how many. So up to a thousand of these devices are in the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of the Attorney-General, the Defence Department, that Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - national security related agencies in which they have no business being anywhere near.

MITCHELL: Well, you discovered this for the audit, did you not?

PATERSON: That's right. I first asked Home Affairs about this in September last year. I said, do you have these cameras? And they said, yes. And I asked them, do you have visibility of whether these cameras are anywhere else in Commonwealth departments or agencies? And they said we don't know. So, off my own bat, I launched an audit myself, asked every government department and agency and those results are now finally in and I think they're pretty shocking.

MITCHELL: Well, the government, Richard Marles, has said today, the Minister, that they will be removed. You would obviously welcome that. He says it will be done in an orderly fashion. There's no great rush. Do you agree with that?

PATERSON: Look, I certainly welcome the Minister's commitment to removing them, but I'd like to see them out much more quickly than that. Frankly, they shouldn't have been there in the first place, and the sooner they're gone, the better. Let's remember that in addition to the national security concerns, these companies are involved in the surveillance, including facial recognition software of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang in China. The United Nations has said that may constitute crimes against humanity. Others have said it might constitute genocide. Australian taxpayers should have no business subsidising companies who are involved in those activities.

MITCHELL: What are the companies? What are the names.

PATERSON: Hikvision and Dahua.

MITCHELL: Yeah, I look at Hikvision today. They even boast about their security, which clearly means they've got access to what they're making secure. Could those cameras be in the Cabinet room?

PATERSON: Look, I really hope not. I have one department that hasn't come back to me yet, the Department of Parliamentary Services. I'll be eagerly awaiting their response to see whether they're in Parliament House.

MITCHELL: What do they cover? What does that department cover?

PATERSON: The whole building of Parliament House. So it is a building that has a lot of security in it, has a lot of cameras in it. I don't know whether or not either of those companies have provided it and I'm very much looking forward to finding out.

MITCHELL: They don't need balloons, do they, over Australia?

PATERSON: No, and this is just one of the possible vulnerabilities that we have. I've talked to you and others before, Neil, about applications like TikTok and WeChat. These are effectively spyware on millions of Australians' phones, and we do lots of intimate and private things on our phones that contains lots of sensitive information about us. And these ultimately can go back to Beijing as well. And so really, we have to step up against the Chinese technologies more generally, Chinese technology companies, they all pose a risk to our national security.

MITCHELL: You know, China will react to this in The Global Times saying we're being paranoid. It's a load of nonsense. What do you say?

PATERSON: They might, but the United Kingdom and the United States have effectively banned them from all of their government facilities. And the UK's Biometrics and Surveillance Commissioner, who's a statutory appointee, has described these cameras as "digital asbestos" and said that we have to have a plan to get rid of them. So if our closest national security allies, if our AUKUS partners think it's not safe for them, it's certainly not safe for us either.

MITCHELL: Does it matter in private life? I've got a couple around my house. Does it matter?

PATERSON: The first step is getting it rid of from all government sites. But I would urge all Australians to think carefully about whether or not their privacy, personal safety and security is being compromised by these devices. I certainly wouldn't have it in my home, and I don't

recommend any Australian who's involved in national security, who's a politician, a journalist, an activist, an academic to have them anywhere near their homes either.

MITCHELL: It's a bit hard to find any cameras that aren't made in China.

PATERSON: Yeah look, I don't want to give consumer advice to your listeners, but if they do search, they will find there are some alternatives that are made in other countries that are much less problematic. Obviously, the problem here is that the bilateral relationship between Australia and China is very strained. It is engaged in economic coercion against us. It is responsible for unprecedented levels of espionage and foreign interference in our democracy. This is not just any other trading partner.

MITCHELL: What, just finally, what is the biggest threat to Australia? Chinese balloons or TikTok?

PATERSON: That's a really good question. I'm not aware of any Chinese balloons ever flying over the Australian mainland. It's possible that's happened, but I'm not aware of it. Although I think if they're brazen enough to do it over the United States, I don't think there's anything stopping them from doing it out of Australia as well. But you're right, there are millions of applications from companies like TikTok that are already on our phones and already have admitted that that data is accessible in China and therefore could be in the hands of Chinese intelligence agencies.

MITCHELL: Thank you so much for your time. Senator James Paterson.


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