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SPEECH POLICE? Australian parliament calls on intelligence agencies to tackle online “misinformation” that they claim endangers the country’s “national security”

  Australian intelligence agencies are being told by the country's parliament to counter so-called "misinformation" online  th...

 Australian intelligence agencies are being told by the country's parliament to counter so-called "misinformation" online that potentially endangers national security.

Joint Parliamentary Committee for Intelligence and Security Chairman Peter Khalil of the left-wing Labor Party made a "recommendation" to Australia's six main intelligence bodies to consider taking advantage of other opportunities to come out against so-called misinformation and propaganda online. 

These six main intelligence agencies make up what is known as the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC), and are led by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the country's main national security intelligence organization.

"The committee sees an opportunity for Australia's intelligence agencies to take an increasing role in sharing information with the Australian public – where appropriate – on matters relating to misinformation, disinformation and harmful propaganda," stated Khalil as he reported the committee's recommendations during a parliamentary session.-

According to the Intelligence and Security Joint Committee, an annual review of the AIC found a spike in so-called misinformation over 2020 and 2021, which is what warranted the committee's current recommendation.

Australian parliament says COVID-19 claims responsible for rise in "misinformation"

Khalil blamed the rise in misinformation with the period in Australia when the country's Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic lockdowns began and the security environment in Australia began rapidly fluctuating to be broadly in favor of more government control over Australian social life.

"The committee received evidence of how misinformation and disinformation both COVID related and then, more broadly, contributed to the rapid change in the security environment during 2020 and 2021," he said, claiming that the wave of so-called misinformation during the early days of the pandemic significantly amplified the country's security concerns and thus necessitate the AIC's robust redressal.

Despite calling for the AIC to come out more against online misinformation, the joint committee claimed that amidst the changing strategic environment and the significant impact of COVID-19 on Australia, the AIC "largely worked in an effective and increasingly collaborative manner."

"The Committee found that, on the whole, agencies performed their roles well, particularly considering the challenging operational environment faced over the reporting period," said Khalil.

The "suggestion" by the parliament to the AIC on tackling online misinformation will be received very controversially by free speech advocates in Australia and abroad who caution about government overreach.

This recommendation is also just one of four other suggestions put forward by the Intelligence and Security Joint Committee in its latest annual review of the AIC.

Two of the other three recommendations focused on improving the sharing of information by the six agencies with the joint committee as well as with the auditor-general, the main watchdog institution for the Australian parliament and government.

Other recommendations included improving information sharing between the six agencies of the AIC and the four agencies of the National Intelligence Community – which includes the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force.

The last recommendation addressed staffing issues within the AIC's sister organization, the National Intelligence Community (NIC) – a group of four agencies that includes the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Border Force and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. This specific recommendation asked that the Office of National Intelligence, a member of the AIC, work with the NIC to develop a more consistent data collection program for its workforce, with a focus on recruiting and retaining talent for the NIC.

"The people who work in Australia's intelligence agencies are our greatest asset. By developing a whole-of-NIC recruitment and retention strategy, Australia will be better positioned to deliver on its intelligence priorities," said Khalil. "This includes securing a recruitment pipeline through effective security clearance processes as well as maintaining the 'value-proposition' agencies offer, to remain market competitive."

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