Thursday, September 30, 2010

Victoria police make 50,000 phone checks in 2009-10

Geoff Wilkinson Herald Sun & Michael Byers The Mikiverse October 1, 2010

VICTORIA Police spent more than $1.25 million checking the private and business telephone records of an average of almost 140 people every day during 2009-10.

Did they gain this money from revenue raised in preventing Victorian's right to travel privately on the land?

But Chief Commissioner Simon Overland appears to have yielded to scathing criticism of police using phone checks to try to trace leaks to the media.

Mr Overland told the Herald Sun yesterday he had asked for a review of the force's approval process when authorising telephone record checks.

He said he had confidence in the integrity of officers authorised to approve phone checks, but wanted to "explore whether we need to increase our accountabilities in this space".

All police have to do to get call records from Telstra or any other provider is have an inspector, or anyone of higher rank, authorise their release by stating they are "reasonably necessary for the enforcement of the criminal law".

Liberty Victoria president, Michael Pearce, SC, said he was "really quite shocked at the extent of this".

Mr Pearce said the number of phones checked was remarkable and the lack of scrutiny or oversight in the process "plainly lends itself to abuse of power".

"Generally speaking, if police want to seize records as part of an investigation they need a warrant, and I don't know why these records should be any different," he said.

Mr Pearce said although the law empowered police to authorise the release of phone records, it did not compel providers to hand them over.

Secret checks of private and business telephone records by police became an issue last week after it was revealed calls made to and from a Herald Sun journalist had been investigated.

Police claimed the checks were necessary to try to establish the source of a leaked security alert, which formed the basis of a story about outlaw motorcycle gangs moving into Victoria.

Unauthorised disclosure of information by police is a criminal offence carrying a penalty of up to five years' jail.

A 10-month investigation into the leaked document about bikie gangs has apparently been wound up without identifying the source.

Police who had telephone contact with the Herald Sun journalist around the time the story was published last November were recently interviewed by investigators from the force's ethical standards department.

Police interviewed by ethical standards investigators trying to identify the source of the leak are believed to have been told in recent days they have been cleared.

A Victoria Police spokesman said yesterday 50,324 authorisations for access to phone records were made in 2009-10 - almost 10,000 more than the previous year.

He could not say how many authorisations related to the phone records of journalists, politicians, judicial officers, lawyers or doctors.

The spokesman said the number of authorisations varied annually because it was "driven by operational needs".

"Call charge record checks provide police with an incredibly effective tool and help remove a lot of criminals from the streets," he said.

"So in that sense they're good value for money."

State Opposition leader Ted Baillieu said the number of telephone record checks being done by police was extraordinary.

"John Brumby and Simon Overland must tell Victorians why this extraordinary level of private telephone record access is necessary and guarantee that there has been no inappropriate access, especially to the phone records of whistleblowers, journalists and political opponents of the government," Mr Baillieu said.

Police in Victoria made far more telephone record authorisations than any other force during 2008-09 - the last year for which national records are available - with the exception of New South Wales, where a staggering 100,585 requests were granted.

WA Police made 24,606 authorisations that year, the AFP 16,942, Tasmania Police 9,627, Queensland Police 9,344 and SA Police 3442.

Thirty different agencies were given access to telephone records on the grounds that it was necessary in the enforcement of the criminal law.

They ranged from anti-corruption agencies and the ATO to the RSPCA and the Department of Primary Industries.

Authorisations can also be made for the enforcement of a law imposing a pecuniary penalty or the protection of public revenue.

Comments on this story

  • Andrew of Melbourne Posted at 11:59 PM September 30, 2010

    Good thing I have several phone numbers then :)

    Comment 1 of 5

  • Angela of Melbourne Posted at 12:07 AM Today

    Thats not on Overland, if you want to do criminal investigations, but what gives them the right to do civilians? For what reason are you doing them. Someone should put a stop to this immediately.

    Comment 2 of 5

  • chris Posted at 12:59 AM Today

    If you have nothing to hide then you won't care if they check your records.

    Comment 3 of 5

    It is quite scary to think that people are actually ignorant enough to say something like this. Was this comment submitted by a police/policy officer? a politician?

  • les.smith of melbourne Posted at 1:03 AM Today

    It just proves we do live in a police state..

    Comment 4 of 5

  • ben of melbourne Posted at 1:35 AM Today

    I don't mind the police having access to my phone records - I just expected and hoped that the police would have access to this kind of information

    Comment 5 of 5

    Interesting that someone EXPECTS that the police would be checking up on his phone records. So much for privacy.

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