Police have raided the Canberra home of a News Corp journalist over her reporting on a top secret government proposal to give unprecedented powers to Australia's cyber spies.
Australian Federal Police officers presented Annika Smethurst, the national political editor of News Corp's Sunday tabloids, with a search warrant on Tuesday morning.
The warrant granted officers authority to access her home, computer and mobile phone.
The actions are in connection to an April 2018 story that revealed internal government discussions about giving electronic intelligence agency the Australian Signals Directorate greater power to respond to threats on Australian soil.
News Corp's report included photos and details from a top secret internal document proposing new abilities to "proactively disrupt and covertly remove" onshore threats by "hacking into critical infrastructure".
The federal police confirmed the execution of a search warrant on Tuesday as part of an "investigation into the alleged unauthorised disclosure of national security information".
In a statement, the police said they would allege the disclosure of "these specific documents undermines Australia's national security".
"No arrests are expected today as a result of this activity," the statement said.
A spokesperson for News Corp Australia said the police actions were a "dangerous act of intimidation" and would have a chilling effect on public interest journalism.
"The raid was outrageous and heavy handed," the spokesperson said in a statement.
"News Corp Australia has expressed the most serious concerns about the willingness of governments to undermine the Australian public's right to know about important decisions governments are making that can and will impact ordinary Australian citizens.
"What's gone on this morning sends clear and dangerous signals to journalists and newsrooms across Australia."
Smethurst's story reported the top secret proposal as one that would for the first time allow the ASD to target Australians, as opposed to enemies, on foreign soil. The use of the powers would be subject to approval from the defence and home affairs ministers.
Historically, ASD has been overwhelmingly focused on gathering foreign "signals intelligence" and supporting overseas operations.
Government sources were quoted as calling it a "political power grab" that had concerned some insiders.
The secretaries of the Home Affairs and Defence departments, Michael Pezzullo and Greg Moriarty, and the director-general of ASD, Mike Burgess, hit back at the story, saying there was "no proposal to increase the ASD's powers to collect intelligence on Australians or to covertly access their private data".
In a joint statement, the senior bureaucrats said ASD had been granted a cyber security function to protect Australians from "cyber-enabled crime and cyber-attacks" and not to collect intelligence on them.
Ian McKenzie, the former head of ASD, warned against proposals to allow the agency to operate domestically, saying it would be a "fundamental change" and "sent a shiver down most judges' spines".
On Tuesday, advocacy group Digital Rights Watch said the AFP raid was "incredibly worrying" and posed a risk to people seeking to expose wrongdoing.
"This is a gross abuse of national security powers - using them to reinforce a culture of secrecy and lack of accountability in our law enforcement apparatus," the organisation's chair, Tim Singleton Norton said.
- SMH/The Age