Email, SMS, phone tapping up 16 per cent in 2012-13: Attorney-General report

Use of telecommunications interception legislation to access email, SMS and voice messages increased by 16 per cent during 2012/13, the Attorney-General's latest annual report on activities under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 has revealed.

The report comes as authorities gear up to introduce a telecommunications-industry security framework to keep up with new technological developments.

The 2012-13 annual report showed that such measures were widely used within Australia, noting that information obtained through telecommunications interception and stored communications warrants were used in 3083 arrests, 6898 prosecutions and 2765 convictions during 2012-3.

Three new statutory bodies – the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (Victoria), Victorian Inspectorate, and Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (South Australia) – were added to the list of organisations able to request telecommunications interception during the year.

Also marking a change in policy during the year was the introduction of targeted integrity testing, with staff members of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Crime Commission and Customs targeted with telecommunications interception when “suspected of corrupt conduct”.

Interception of 'stored communications' – including email, SMS or voice messages stored on a carrier's network – was carried out during the year by organisations including the ACCC, ASIC, and Customs. Some 561 such warrants were issued in 2012/13, up 16 percent from the 483 such warrants granted during 2011/12.

Stored-communications warrants proved quite fruitful, helping law-enforcement authorities make 132 arrests, 152 prosecutions and obtain 65 convictions.

Interestingly, NSW Police were far and away the highest users of stored communications, with 56 arrests, 123 proceedings and 46 convictions recorded. That was several times the 18 arrests, 12 proceedings and 3 convictions achieved by the second-place AFP.

Some 312,929 authorisations were made during the year for access to existing information or documents, up 11.3 percent over the previous year. Fully 7532 prospective data authorisations, which provide the authority to monitor a target for the creation of specific information and can be provided for a maximum of 45 days, were executed during the year with an average duration of 27.5 days each.

Telecommunications interception legislation was used in 19 cybercrime investigations – 17 by the AFP and two by the WA Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) during the course of the year, representing just a fraction of the 4569 different cases in which interception was used.

Evidence gathered through lawfully intercepted information was used in 26 cybercrime prosecutions during the year – 25 by the AFP and one by the Victoria Police. That is an equally small percentage of the 6746 prosecutions in which intercepted information was used.

Of those prosecutions, 2700 convictions were recorded – 22 of which involved the evidentiary use of intercepted information about cybercrimes.

Despite its efficacy, however, changes in the nature of communications and communications technology “impact on the ability of national security and law enforcement agencies to access communications to collect intelligence and to effectively detect and prosecute crimes,” the report warns.

“This has resulted in additional complexity in the Act and an increased number of exceptions to the general prohibition on interception.”

Changes to the interception framework were mooted in a report tabled by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) earlier this year.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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