Australian police reveal they broke new metadata laws

Australian police reveal they broke new metadata laws

CANBERRA, Australia — Australian police revealed on Friday that an officer broke the country’s contentious new metadata laws by illegally accessing a journalist’s phone records to identify an anonymous source.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin revealed the first known breach of the laws, which were passed by Parliament in March 2015 despite widespread privacy concerns.

The laws force Australian communication companies and internet providers to store customers’ personal metadata, such as phone numbers called and websites accessed, for at least two years as a counterterrorism measure for the convenience of law enforcement agencies.

A police officer investigating a police leak failed to get a warrant earlier this year before accessing the phone records of a journalist who reported the leak, Colvin said.

The journalist involved was not told of the breach because the investigation was ongoing, Colvin said.

Police destroyed all the evidence gathered as a result of the breach and advised the Commonwealth Ombudsman, a watchdog that investigates complaints from the public of unreasonable treatment by government agencies, Colvin said. The ombudsman will launch an investigation of the breach next week.

Colvin said the investigator had not been aware that before accessing a journalist’s phone records to identify a source, police must get a federal judge to issue a Journalist Information Warrant. Such warrants are an added safeguard in the legislation in recognition of journalists’ obligation to protect sources.

“Clearly they can’t un-see it,” Colvin said of the illegally obtained phone records. “They’ll need to consider in terms of next steps of the investigation what weight they put on what they saw.”

Colvin would not say whether police would now seek a warrant. But he said Australian Federal Police have never applied for such a warrant since the new laws came into force.

“Put simply, this was human error. It should not have occurred,” Colvin said. “I don’t think that gives cause to say that the public should have their confidence shattered in the system.”

The minor Greens party, which voted against the legislation, said the breach illustrated numerous flaws in the “mass-surveillance laws.”

“A scheme that was forced on to the public as a counterterror tool was instead used in exactly the way we’ve long feared — in pursuit of a journalist and their source,” Greens Sen. Scott Ludlam said in a statement.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the country’s main spy agency, does not have to apply to a court for a Journalist Information Warrant. They can apply for one through a secret process from the attorney general.

The organization’s director-general, Duncan Lewis, told a Senate committee in March that “a small number” of the warrants had been issued under the new laws.

Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Cokato resident receives Order of Canada

Dr. Bryan Kolb has been instrumental in helping society understand what happens inside our heads

Fernie Alpine Resort opens for preview weekend

Fernie Alpine Resort will be opening for a preview weekend, this Saturday and Sunday

Local boys raise money for sick children in unconventional way

Four local boys have found a way to use their passion for… Continue reading

Skid Steer stolen from Sparwood Transfer Station

Elk Valley RCMP are seeking the public’s assistance with a theft that… Continue reading

Golf pro has big plans for Sparwood Golf Course

Golf pro looks to a promising future for golf in Sparwood

VIDEO: Rare comic showing Superman’s 1st appearance to be auctioned

The 1938 comic features Superman hoisting a car over his head

Mainroad discusses road conditions, standards

Last week, Mainroad, the Ministry of Transportation, the City of Fernie and… Continue reading

Sparwood florist to compete nationally

The Maple Leaf Cup; where art and flower design meet under one… Continue reading

Stiff fine for B.C. man caught trafficking bear parts

A Cache Creek resident was charged after an undercover sting operation by conservation officers

Vandals pour fake blood on statues at B.C. church

Church members concerned about string of acts of vandalism and possible escalation

Man linked to Shuswap farm where human remains found to appear in court

A rally will be held on the Vernon courthouse steps prior to Curtis Sagmoen’s appearance

B.C. snow plow operator helps save elderly man

The 73-year-old man had fallen at his isolated home, and finally was able to call for help

Wildlife group challenges B.C.’s interpretation of law on destroying bears

Fur-Bearers are challenging a conservation officer’s decision to kill a bear cub near Dawson Creek

Tourism numbers continue to climb in B.C.

The biggest rise in international travellers to British Columbia are those coming from Australia

Most Read