Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Australian spy agency blames 'fat fingers' for tapping wrong phone numbers

In Australia's corridors of power, intelligence operatives are hard at work. But now the country's top intelligence agency says the country's spooks suffer from a serious case of sausage fingers.

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
Expertise Space, Futurism, Science and Sci-Tech, Robotics, Tech Culture Credentials
  • Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
Claire Reilly
2 min read

Australian spies could be tapping the wrong phone calls and chasing the wrong people, all because their fingers are too fat.

Australia's top intelligence agent, Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Margaret Stone, has warned that accidents happen even at the top of Australia's security networks.

The Inspector-General, who maintains oversight of Australia's six different security and intelligence agencies, spoke at the Australian Policy Institute on Tuesday night. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Ms Stone revealed that senior staff at the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) had admitted to staff making incorrect phone taps because they mashed the wrong keys.

"I remember asking a senior ASIO officer when there were a series of telephone intercepts in which wrong numbers were used," she said. "[I said,] 'How can this happen? There's a whole series of them here.' And the answer was, 'It's fat fingers'."

"We've all done that. I know accidents can happen, fingers can be fat."

20th Century Fox

While we've all certainly been there, not many of us have had access to a Stored Communications Warrant under Australia's Telecommunications Act while doing so.

But Ms Stone warned that Australia's top security and intelligence professionals are required to do "extremely difficult things in a manner which does not fall within the ethical compass of normal rules of society."

"We must accept that there will be failure. As sure as night and day, there will be failure and it behooves people who purport to be intelligent and informed members of the community to understand why failure is inevitable," she said.

"We cannot expect 100 percent success."

The office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has been contacted for comment.