Private and Corporate Surveillance

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Private Intelligence gathering companies operate in Australia. 

They can gather intelligence covertly (secretly) or by accessing and collating public information.

Government agencies and departments have also been known to use covert operations to surveil activists.

Open source surveillance

Companies, such as NOSIC (the National Open Source Intelligence Centre) often have contracts with police, government, or corporations – and will extensively monitor, collate, assess and report on publically accessible information about individuals or organisations. 

This is called is ‘open source intelligence’.

For example; a private intelligence gathering company may monitor websites, social media, email lists, media releases, and any public documents relating to an activist campaign, compile it into reports and sell that information to police or companies.

NOSIC proudly provides services such as ”issue monitoring”, ”tactical intelligence”, ”threat analysis” and ”trend analysis and forecasting focus on emerging patterns and trends in activism”.

Spies and infiltrators

Government agencies and private corporations both engage in spying activities on activists.

VicForests had hired private investigators to follow and spy on activists and weaponise information to silence them. Watch this investigation on VicForests spying by the ABC. 

Undercover spies were also hired to infiltrate the Leard State Forest blockade that was campaigning to stop the Maules Creek Coal Mine run by Whitehaven Coal. Read this article by the Sydney Morning Herald.

In the United Kingdom in late 2003, private intelligence gathering companies were uncovered by Sunday Times investigations spying on and infiltrating activist groups.

R&CA Publications was monitoring the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and other anti-militarism organisations.

The agency employed undercover agents to infiltrate the pressure groups on behalf of BAE, then called British Aerospace. Files and intelligence was passed on regularly to security companies such as Group 4 and the British Government.

Government and private sector cooperation

Governments pass info onto the private sector as well – FOI documents showed that the Energy Security Branch of Minister Martin Ferguson’s department was proactive in ensuring the Australian Energy Market Operator, Macquarie Generation and TransGrid were warned of a ”peaceful mass action” at the Bayswater power station in NSW in 2010. 

Read Spies eye green protesters by Philip Dorling.


On the street level, private security cameras are increasingly being used to monitor protests and footage can be passed to police if requested or criminal conduct arises.

The City of Melbourne Council has an extensive network of surveillance cameras in the Melbourne CBD. These have been used to cover political protests and footage of protests has been passed on to police.

Most large corporate buildings now also have security cameras that monitor doorways, foyers and entrances. There are also over 100 CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) cameras located throughout Melbourne’s privately operated Federation Square which feed into a 24 hour Security Control Room.

What to do about it

A good general guideline for activists is:

  1. Assume that police are monitoring online communication, assume your phones and text messages are being observed, and that anything planned in an open, public meeting is known. For most open, democratically organised movements, campaigns and actions this is business as usual.
  2. If you want to organise something that depends on surprise, simply don’t do it on the internet, on the phone or in an open meeting.  Read more about security culture – here is a good resource on Security Culture for Activists by Ruckus Society
  3. If the surveillance is harassing, intimidating or impacting on your work, record everything to look for patterns. Discuss and analyse what is going on so you have the clearest possible picture. Analysis is vital for getting your security precautions right.
  4. Seek legal advice as soon as any surveillance is detected.  Avenues such as Freedom of Information requests or civil suits may be possible.  Legal support should be a part of your support structure.
  5. Set up support structures. Tell others who you trust, other campaigners and activists and allies such as parliamentarians, priests, Imams or other community leaders and ask each for specific support.  The reason for this is not to isolate yourself but to systematically increase your profile and links with others in society. It signals to the people undertaking the surveillance that you have support and serves to deter further harassment – repression aims to marginalise you politically – it is important to assertively counter this.  
  6. Likewise – if you know of others who are experiencing some form of surveillance or harassment then offering genuine solidarity and support is vital.
  7. You or your group can then make a clear decision to expose the surveillance to the public and the media.  Provide evidence to journalists, prepare and release a public document.  Expose the surveillance as an injustice and demand redress publicly and in conjunction with legal action.
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Private and Corporate Surveillance

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