Po­lice play­ing spy game

Me­ta­data’s vi­tal role in catch­ing crim­i­nals


TAS­MA­NIA Po­lice is spy­ing on the me­ta­data of sus­pects and crooks thou­sands of times ev­ery year to solve crime.

For the first time, the Mercury can re­veal in which crimes po­lice are us­ing the highly valu­able tool as part of their in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Me­ta­data com­prises ba­sic in­for­ma­tion about a com­mu­ni­ca­tion such as an email ad­dress or phone num­ber. It does not in­clude the ac­tual mes­sage.

Un­der the law, po­lice have the power to com­pel tel­cos like Tel­stra to pro­vide them with me­ta­data.

The lat­est Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions (In­ter­cep­tion and Ac­cess) Re­port re­veals Tas­ma­nia Po­lice ac­cessed peo­ple’s me­ta­data nearly 8000 times in 2015-16.

Since the controversial Data Re­ten­tion Act came into force in 2015, law en­force­ment agen­cies must now dis­close the crimes for which they ac­cessed the me­ta­data.

Top­ping the list for Tas­ma­nia were homi­cides, which prompted po­lice to ac­cess peo­ple’s phone and on­line me­ta­data 1318 times, fol­lowed by drug traf­fick­ing, which saw the data probed on 1314 oc­ca­sions.

Tas­ma­nia Po­lice sought me­ta­data 586 times for sex­crime in­ves­ti­ga­tions, 121 times for cy­ber crimes and 85 times for ab­duc­tions.

The bulk of the data sought by po­lice was less than three months old but in nearly 400 in­stances it ac­cessed me­ta­data that was more than two years old.

Po­lice de­clined to com­ment. Also un­der cer­tain con­di­tions po­lice can get a war­rant, ap­proved by a fed­eral judge or sim­i­lar, to lis­ten in on the com­mu­ni­ca­tions of crim­i­nals or read their emails.

In 2015-16 Tas­ma­nia Po­lice ac­cessed so called “stored com- mu­ni­ca­tions”, such as pri­vate Face­book mes­sages, 17 times lead­ing to five ar­rests.

On more than 100 oc­ca­sions po­lice served tel­cos with “preser­va­tion no­tices” to en­sure ser­vice providers did not dis­pose of com­mu­ni­ca­tions made by peo­ple un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

One of the most time-crit­i­cal in­ves­tiga­tive meth­ods used by po­lice is in­ter­cep­tion war­rants, which al­low de­tec­tives to spy on the com­mu­ni­ca­tions of crim­i­nals or sus­pects in real time. Th­ese can only be ob- tained for se­ri­ous crimes that carry at least seven years’ jail time, in­clud­ing of­fences like mur­der, kid­nap­ping, ter­ror­ism, child ex­ploita­tion and or­gan­ised crime.

In 2015-16 Tas­ma­nia Po­lice ap­plied for 15 in­ter­cep­tion war­rants, with two re­lat­ing to mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tions while the rest in­volved drug traf­fick­ing.

The in­for­ma­tion gath­ered un­der the war­rants led to po­lice ar­rest­ing five peo­ple.

This par­tic­u­lar sur­veil­lance pro­gram cost Tas­ma­nia Po­lice $607,000.

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