Tasmania Police accessed metadata 29,000 times since new data retention laws

Tasmania Police Deputy Commissioner Scott Tilyard. Picture: Loretta Johnston.
Tasmania Police Deputy Commissioner Scott Tilyard. Picture: Loretta Johnston.

Tasmania Police has accessed metadata more than 29,000 times since the introduction of the controversial data retention laws in 2015.

The new statistics follow revelations ACT Policing unlawfully accessed metadata 3365 times in 2015 due to an "administrative oversight" and reports WA Police obtained invalid warrants for journalists' data three times.

But Tasmania Police Deputy Commissioner Scott Tilyard said metadata had been lawfully obtained in this state through a "stringent process", that included annual reports to the Attorney-General's Department and inspections by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

"As part of the inspection process, recommendations for better practice have been implemented, however there are no instances where metadata has been obtained without securing the correct authorisation," he said.

Metadata is the footprint of information left by electronic communication, such as the date, duration, location and recipient of a phone call.

It does not include the contents of a phone call, however, some law enforcement agencies have the power to access "stored communications" such as text messages and voice mails.

UNAUTHORISED ACCESS OF STORED COMMUNICATION

An inspection by the ombudsman in 2016-17 revealed Tasmania Police had accessed stored communications three times without the proper authorisation.

Tasmania Police also obtained telecommunications data outside the parameters of its authority on five occasions.

These incidents were revealed in a recently released ombudsman report about law enforcement access to stored communications and telecommunications data.

The report said there were "a small number of instances" at agencies, in addition to 116 by the Australian Federal Police, "where telecommunications data was obtained either prior to, or without a valid authorisation"

"This occurred as a result of processes and procedures being incorrectly applied," the report said.

"We were satisfied by the prompt remedial action these agencies took in response to identified instances."

Deputy Commissioner Tilyard said while there was "room for improvement identified across all jurisdictions, the Commonwealth Ombudsman's 2016-17 Report found that agencies were generally exercising their powers to access stored communications and telecommunications data appropriately".

"Tasmania Police has reviewed its policies and procedures and taken steps to develop and improve more robust authorisation processes in relation to stored communications," he said.

Deputy Commissioner Tilyard said Tasmania Police had not accessed the metadata or stored communications "of any journalists since the retention laws were introduced".

The ombudsman report examined agency records relating to telecommunications data between mid October 2015 to the end of June 2016, and records relating to stored communications between July 2015 to 30 June 2016.

Twenty law enforcement agencies have powers to access an individual's metadata when investigating certain offences, including every state police agency, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.