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Telecommunications act grants law enforcement agencies enormous powers to monitor private conversations; ASIO can peruse `real time’ mobile phone data to pinpoint location of a user, without need to obtain a warrant

Posted by gasweek on 11 October, 2007

Democrats Senator Stott Despoja (South Australia) on 20 September 2007 told the Senate that the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Bill 2007 should be amended to require agencies to obtain a warrant before using a person’s mobile phone as a tracking, tracing and monitoring device.

Dems call to limit access to narrow list of agencies: “The legislation gives enormous powers to law enforcement agencies to monitor the private conversations of Australians,” Despoja said. “Privacy is a fundamental human right, and Parliament has a duty to limit the violation of this right to only those situations where exceptional circumstances justify it. In this respect, we must be careful to limit the powers to only those agencies that can positively justify being vested with them”.

What’s CrimTrac doing on the list? “As the Chair of the Senate Committee noted in his report, CrimTrac is one agency that has been unable to justify its vesting with such powers. CrimTrac is not a law enforcement agency authorised to conduct investigations into suspected offences except in limited circumstances related to spent conviction legislation”.

Govt prefers to keep technology definitions vague: “During the course of the Senate inquiry, various examples of converging technologies were discussed including, web browsing, downloading from the internet, entering chat rooms, sharing emails, taking digital photographs and video footage and playing MP3 files all from a mobile telephone. Questions were raised as to what information captured can properly be considered telecommunications data. The Democrats consider that the best way to deal with these new technologies is to give certainty as to whether or not the information they produce can be categorised as telecommunications data. This is something which the Attorney-General’s Department appears reluctant to do. The Attorney-General’s Department has stated that they are ‘concerned about defining technology and call associated data now because the definition might be redundant in 12 months time’. The Democrats are dissatisfied with this reason. In the very least, a definition which is technology neutral but which highlights that the information being sought is information about the communication rather than the communication itself, would fit in with the Government’s policy rationale and provide some degree of certainty”.

ASIO gets mobile-tracking power, without a warrant: “Proposed section 176 and 180 of the Bill do not transfer existing provisions of the Telecommunications Act, but create a new scheme for access to prospective information or documents for ASIO and other law enforcement agencies. The effect of these provisions is that ASIO and law enforcement agencies will have access to `real time’ mobile phone data which could allow agencies to pinpoint, with reasonable accuracy, the location of a user. In other words, mobile phones could become a de-facto tracking device, and the Bill does not oblige agencies to obtain a warrant for this purpose”.

Dems to fight easy mobile-tracking powers: “The prospect that our mobile phones will soon have the ability to divulge precise location data is far from fanciful. Already some of the major networks are advertising GPS technology as a standard feature. The Democrats consider that a person’s mobile telephone phone should not be used as surrogate tracking and tracing technology for people in the absence of any countervailing public interest, significant independent oversight and public reporting”.

Warrant, please: “We favour access to location information only through a warrant and will be moving an amendment to that effect. If this amendment is not accepted by the Government, the Bill will allow mobile telephone location information to be disclosed under a written authorisation for a period of 45 or 90 days without the need to obtain a warrant”.

Reference: Stott Despoja, Senator for South Australia, Senate Hansard, Commonwealth of Australia, 20 September 2007.

Erisk Net, 7/10/2007

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