AFP reports breach of TIA Act to Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has self-reported to the Commonwealth Ombudsman a breach of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (TIA Act) by a member of the AFP.

In the process of an investigation, an AFP member accessed Call Charge Records and telecommunications data pertaining to a journalist. These records were accessed without a Journalist Information Warrant being issued, which is required by the legislation.

AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin said the breach was identified as the result of a routine review of the relevant case by a senior officer, and an internal independent review was immediately undertaken.

“Once the breach was confirmed, immediate steps were taken to mitigate the effects of the breach and to ensure that this was an isolated incident. All relevant records in the AFP’s possession were destroyed and no investigative activities were undertaken as a result of the telecommunications data obtained from the journalist’s records,” Commissioner Colvin said.  

“Initial inquiries reveal this breach was a result of human error. Immediately after this incident was identified, our internal processes were reviewed and steps have now been put in place to ensure a similar breach should never happen again.”

On Wednesday, 26 April 2017, the AFP notified the Commonwealth Ombudsman of the breach.

“I have already been notified by the Commonwealth Ombudsman that they will conduct a full audit of the breach under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, commencing Friday, 5 May 2017. I welcome that audit and the AFP will fully cooperate,” Commissioner Colvin said.

“The AFP put comprehensive guidance and training material in place to support compliance with this legislation when it commenced in 2015. This is the first investigation where the AFP was required to obtain a Journalist Information Warrant under the TIA Act, and the processes we had in place were found to be lacking. Our internal procedures have been changed to prevent a repeat of this incident.”

In addition, the AFP has undertaken a comprehensive review of other similar investigations to ensure further errors have not occurred. No other breaches have been identified, and the AFP is confident this has been an isolated incident.

“It is important to note that this investigation did not relate to the conduct or action of a journalist and was not about targeting a particular journalist. The journalist is not the subject of this investigation, nor are they being investigated for any alleged breach of Commonwealth law,” Commissioner Colvin said.

“The AFP understands the importance of individual privacy and we support this as a fundamental right in Australia. However, in the 21st century, access to metadata is central to the vast majority of successful crime investigations. It is critical that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies can access it.

“While it was not an offence under the Act, given our organisation’s commitment to transparency and honesty with the Australian community, I felt it was important the matter is reported early and put on the public record.

“We have strengthened mechanisms to ensure the public can have confidence that the AFP’s powers will be used in a targeted, transparent and accountable manner and that the appropriate checks and balances are firmly in place.”

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