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.