ben moretti on Tue, 30 Apr 2002 19:34:10 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Officials spy on calls

[ha! as dave/ross said in their email earlier today, we in oz are indeed being
spied upon - check out the story below. a friend of mine has had his phone bugged
(for drug related issues but bugging none the less) and this makes one feel
particularly paranoid. i feel that my phone is being bugged at the moment -
i can distinctly hear a connection being made sometimes when i use it. or is
it? ben],6093,4220299,00.html

Officials spy on calls


THOUSANDS of Australians' phone call records are being secretly examined by
police and government investigators. 

Phone companies released an average of 2000 records a day last year, revealing
who their customers called, for how long and from where.
The information is given to police and other authorised investigators who request
it, often by e-mail.

No warrants are needed, and those who suspect their records may have been probed
have no way of confirming it.

Evidence suggests the number of disclosures could be rising, with 750,000 records
released last year.

Phone records can be obtained by a range of government agencies, including all
state and federal police forces and the tax office. State revenue authorities,
Customs, ASIO and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission also
have access.

Widespread access to phone records has angered civil liberties groups and prompted
public complaints, but the Federal Government has defended it as a proper investigatory

Under the Telecommunications Act, investigators get access to call records if
the carrier agrees the data is reasonably necessary for investigating a crime
or offence carrying a fine, or to prevent the loss of public money. Urgent requests
are granted within two hours.

Sophisticated computer analysis allows investigators to gather details about
a suspect's circle of contacts and friends.

Mobile phone records reveal a suspect's whereabouts as the locationof the transmission
tower carrying the call is recorded.

This year's total of 750,000 disclosures comes despite a warning to investigators
to stop using the facility to find addresses from phone numbers -- which can
be done via existing databases. 

These reverse phone-book requests were thought to have made up as much as 80
per cent of the previous year's total of about one million disclosures. 

Prominent Labor backbencher Laurie Brereton, who obtained the figures through
a question in Parliament, said he was concerned about the number of disclosures.

"The potential for abuse of this extensive disclosure of personal information
for political, commercial or private purposes should not be underestimated,"
he said. 

Mr Brereton believes his phone records may have been obtained by police during
an investigation into the release of government intelligence on East Timor in

The probe has produced no evidence of wrongdoing. 

Liberty Victoria president Chris Maxwell, QC, said a warrant should be required
for access to phone records. 

"The Federal Government should find out how this wholesale invasion of privacy
occurred and change the rules so that access is limited to cases of serious
crime," he said. 

But Attorney-General Daryl Williams said police and other agencies must be allowed
to conduct legitimate investigations. 

"Privacy is not an unlimited right. It must be balanced against the needs of
other interests, including the public interest in protecting the public revenue
and enforcement of the law," he said. 

This report appears on 

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