Use of telecommunications interception legislation continues to climb, according to the latest annual report of the Attorney-General's Department into the use of interception provisions of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979.
Some 334,658 authorisations for disclosure of telecommunications histories were made during 2013-14, the report says, with 324,260 of these made “to enforce a criminal law”. This was a modest rise from the 330,798 authorisations made the previous year, although four more agencies – 77 in total – requested access in the latest reporting period.
The use of warrants declined overall, with 4007 interception warrants issued in 2013-14 as compared with 4232 in the previous year. This information was, the report says, used in 2938 arrests, 4008 prosecutions, and 2210 convictions.
The use of B-Party warrants – which allow the interception of communications services belonging to a person corresponding with a person of interest – was up 16 percent over the previous year while the 999 issued named-person warrants reflected a 12 percent increase over the previous year.
These latest figures come at a transformative time for telecommunications interception, with newly passed legislation now mandating telecommunications providers to retain metadata about calls on their networks for a period of two years.
Critics have repeatedly expressed concern that the legislation will lead to greater government surveillance but the A-G's report goes out of its way to highlight the “significant limitations” maintain on telecommunications surveillance in the name of privacy.
“Interception is subject to significant limitations, oversight and reporting obligations and the annual report is an important part of this accountability framework,” the report says while highlighting the efficacy of telecommunications interception.
“Telecommunications data is often the first source of lead information for further investigations, helping to eliminate potential suspects and to support applications for more privacy intrusive investigative tools,” it explains.
“In many cases, the weight of evidence obtained through telecommunications interception results in defendants entering guilty pleas, thereby eliminating the need for the intercepted information to be introduced into evidence.”
Yet while the A-G report lauds the efficacy of access to telecommunications data, some critics of greater reliance on telecommunications interception have pointed out that tighter laws only push criminals to use alternative forms of communication that are tightly encrypted and cannot be easily intercepted.
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