Internet social networking sites like Facebook, private emails and mobile phone text messages are included in sweeping new phone tap powers being given to Queensland police.
The new phone tap powers are contained in legislation presented to the Queensland state Parliament earlier in February, shortly before the state election was called. They follow intense lobbying by police for such laws and will also be available to the state’s Crime and Misconduct Commission
As a criminal defence lawyer I have been bemused by the state government’s PR “spin” on the issue which has carefully fudged just how widely the new powers for police to tap phone calls and all private electronic communications will go.
The new legislation in effect means police can seek the power to tap everything - every modern form of communication that passes over a telecommunications system.
Under the Telecommunications Interception Bill, Police and the Crime and Misconduct Commission will be able to eavesdrop on all private emails and mobile phone calls, intercept text messages and snoop on private messages on social network sites like Facebook and MySpace.
They will have authority to eavesdrop on communications, be they speech, music or sounds, data, text, images or signals. Anything and everything will be part of the interception laws. Only now is the general public starting to realise how intrusive the legislation will be.
This “Big Brother” side of the phone tap powers has sneaked under the media’s radar so far and government assurances that the phone tapping powers are somehow going to be safeguarded by the vetting of a state government-appointed watchdog, the Public Interest Monitor, are naïve at best.
The Queensland legislation differs from other states’ phone tap laws insomuch as the Queensland applications to a Supreme Court judge for phone tap requests are to be vetted by the Public Interest Monitor.
On the face of it, this is supposed to guard against possible abuse of the law, to make sure police have a valid reason for seeking such a surveillance warrant.
The reality is that the Public Interest Monitor role is essentially nothing more than a public relations gesture. The legislation does not give the PIM any real powers to prevent police launching fishing expeditions in the hope of catching someone on a crime.
From what we can see in the Telecommunications Interception Bill, police or Crime and Misconduct Commission applications to a judge for a phone tap are to be vetted by the Public Interest Monitor, but this government-appointed person has no power to refuse or significantly influence any application.
Despite assurances about the public’s rights being safeguarded, the PIM seems to be a toothless tiger, there to calm those worried about infringements of civil liberties. I cannot see where this person has any real powers such as the power to refuse a phone tap application or over rule a judge’s granting of an application.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
7 posts so far.