Cyber Security, Community Fear and Maintaining Trust – a Rare Insight into Duncan Lewis, an Australian Security Czar
ASIO Director General Duncan Lewis provided some rare and frank insights into his perspective on his job, false perceptions of and within government, international cyber security challenges and the balance of public interest and private rights in a rare public address to UNSW’s Meet the CEO program.
Duncan Lewis reflected on the delicate balancing act for ASIO in a world of “heightened anxiety” and unprecedented threats in areas such as foreign interference in Australia’s domestic affairs.
Social media creates a treasure trove for data intelligence agencies
For example, he acknowledges that social media and the connected lives Australians now live creates a “treasure trove” of data intelligence agencies can access, and how it is the institutional checks and balances have contributed to ASIO successfully navigating its way through the cyber era.
On the one hand, cyber intelligence gathering is cheaper, more reliable and quicker than the old forms of human information gathering through surveillance. People’s access to news about terrible events from around the world creates a sometimes unwarranted worry about their personal safety.
On the other, many are understandably concerned that access to this big data creates an opportunity for the agency to prey on the community.
Checks and balances essential to maintain agency lawfulness
He credits the many institutional checks and balances – from ASIO enabling legislation that requires him to brief the Opposition and protects his independence of advice to his Minister, to the Parliamentary and statutory officers to whom he must report – in creating a culture of strict lawfulness in the agency.
A measure of this success was the rise in confidence in ASIO since the nadir in its reputation in the 1970s, Mr Lewis says.
This contrasted with the willingness of the public to share sensitive personal information with private businesses with far less legal constraints.
The banking Royal Commission has shown some business leadership “pitifully wanting”, he says.
Mr Lewis also reflects on how his career across the military and civilian parts of Defence taught him easy it is to become cloistered in one organisation and to recognise the great skill and intelligence in other parts of the public service in particular.