Could using open-source information online get you arrested for foreign interference?

4 May 2023

Brendan Walker Munro and Sarah Kendall write for The Conversation
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Two weeks ago, 55-year-old Sydney businessman Alexander Csergo was arrested on charges of “recklessly” engaging in foreign interference.

Csergo’s case reads like a spy novel. He allegedly met two Chinese people he knew as “Ken” and “Evelyn” in empty cafes in Shanghai, taking cash and agreeing to write reports for them about Australian defence, economic and security arrangements.

Csergo’s barrister, Bernard Collaery, has argued that he is innocent.

Collaery has some skin in the national security game. In 2018, he was charged with conspiring to release classified information after he allegedly asked a client (an ex-spy known only as Witness K) for information regarding an Australian spying operation. It wasn’t until last year that Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus dropped those charges.

Man transferring secure files on a laptopCsergo’s defence is that he only accessed publicly available material. He claims he cooperated with police, and even turned over his devices to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to prove his innocence.

Putting aside Csergo’s guilt or innocence, his case does raise an interesting question: what does Australia’s raft of new foreign interference laws mean for people who deal in open-source information, for example, academics, analysts or journalists?

Could you be breaking the law by doing the “wrong” Google search and posting your results online?

Read the full article at The Conversation