Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Indonesian spying scandal could overshadow Australia's G20 chairmanship

By Business editor Peter Ryan - analysis

The revelation that Australia has been spying on Indonesia is likely to cast a diplomatic shadow over preparations for the next G20 summit.

The eavesdropping on the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and cabinet ministers comes as Australia prepares to assume the G20 chairmanship from Russia next month.

The next G20 leaders summit will be held in Brisbane in November next year and is being billed on the Prime Minister's website as "the most significant meeting of world leaders Australia has hosted".

The G20 summit is also being trumpeted as "Australia's opportunity to influence the global economic agenda" and to "strengthen engagement with the world's major economies".

But as the Indonesian spying scandal escalates, the big picture global issues and Australia’s moment in the global limelight risks being clouded or diverted.

With as many as four thousand delegates including heads of government, finance ministers and central bank governors set to attend, the pressure to ensure secure communications will be more intense and complex than usual.

It's also anticipated that around three thousand journalists will also be attending and some will be gripped by recent spying scandals and wondering if intelligence agencies will have a covert seat at the G20 table.

Australia's growing impasse with Indonesia comes amid more evidence - if needed - that eavesdropping on foreign leaders is a common practice even between friendly nations.

An earlier diplomatic flashpoint was the revelation that US intelligence broke through three levels of encryption to intercept mobile telephone calls made by the German chancellor Angela Merkel.

And in the past, there have been unsubstantiated allegations that G20 meetings have been frequently bugged by foreign governments.

Just last week, the former cybersecurity adviser to Presidents Obama and George W Bush expressed concern that cybersecurity was not on the G20 agenda.

Melissa Hathaway, now an advisor to thetechnology giant Cisco, told AM the episode showed how widespread surveillance has become around the world.

But without confirming or denying whether such eavesdropping activity takes place, Ms Hathaway signaled it was common practice.

"Citizens should expect that our governments are doing everything in their power to enable a productive and safe lifestyle," Mr Hathaway told me.

"Each of our governments approach that differently."

There's no doubt that the G20 Taskforce set up by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet will be in damage control mode to ensure the Brisbane G20 runs smoothly and that unhelpful issues such as spying are neutralised as quickly as possible.

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