New Report on Australian Surveillance & Covert Ops Released

Canberra, ACT, Australia ( May 26, 2011

New Report on Australian Surveillance & Covert Ops Released

New Report on Australian Surveillance & Covert Ops Released

The Commonwealth Ombudsman today released its most recent six-monthly report on law enforcement compliance under the Surveillance Devices Act.

Law enforcement agencies are given considerable covert information gathering powers under legislation. It is the role of the Commonwealth Ombudsman to ensure that such powers are used lawfully.

Surveillance devices used by law enforcement agencies include optical, listening, tracking and data recording devices. While there is, in most circumstances, no law against using such devices in public, when police enter premises and install such devices without the owner of the premise knowing, proper justification needs to be given and approval obtained.

The most recent Ombudsman report tabled in Parliament today covers inspections of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Crime Commission in the second half of last year and looks at their compliance with requirements for the use of surveillance devices.

Many of the powers exercised by law enforcement agencies – including search and seizure powers or the power of arrest – are significant. What sets covert powers apart, such as the use of surveillance devices, is that the public is not aware that they are being used,’ said the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Mr Allan Asher.

‘If there is concern that ordinary powers have not been used properly, then the matter can be taken to the courts or a remedy otherwise pursued by the affected person. A person who is subject to surveillance will never know. In effect we stand in the shoes of the citizen and make sure that these extremely intrusive powers are used lawfully and appropriately,’ said Mr Asher.

‘Pleasingly, there was generally a high level of compliance, particularly by the ACC. We also note that the AFP have improved their procedures for applying for an extension to an existing warrant,’ said Mr Asher.

‘We had previously found that there was a tendency for law enforcement agencies, when extending surveillance beyond 90 days, to apply for a new warrant rather than using extension provisions.

‘This can hide the fact from the authorising officer that a person has already been under surveillance for a period of time.

‘We note significant improvements made by the AFP in relation to this issue – making more frequent and correct use of extension provisions,’ said Mr Asher.

The Ombudsman’s report is entitled report to the Attorney-General on the results of inspections of records under s 55 of the Surveillance Devices Act 2004—March 2011. It is available here: Surveillance Devices Report from 24 May 2011.

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