Police get shock new powers to intercept private phone calls
Police will have powers to intercept live-stream telephone conversations and data of targeted criminals overseas regardless of their encrypted device under unprecedented new powers that even took federal parliament by surprise.
Critically, the move will also block Facebook stalkers with evidence prosecutions nationally were being dropped on account of the social media platform stalling on handing over evidence to police for up to five years.
In what is being hailed as a game changer for Australian law enforcement including police and ASIO spies, agencies under strict protocols will be allowed to tap into encrypted services such as Google, Apple cloud, WhatsApp, Viber and Facebook Messenger.
Australia has never had the ability to touch in real time overseas service providers, a majority of which are based out of the United States but amendments to laws - already approved by the Americans for their allies Australia and the United Kingdom - is set to allow that.
The parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security had been looking at proposed amendments believing they were just for overseas stored data and expressed shock when it was realised they extended to live-stream interceptions.
"This is something that the committee has just uncovered today in terms of the bill itself," committee deputy chair Anthony Byrne said as he questioned law enforcement witnesses.
If approved later this year, major fraud, transnational drug smuggling, terrorism, child exploitation are some of the categories for which authorities will be allowed to tap offshore service providers including live-stream interception and stored cloud data.
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner and Commander, Forensic Evidence and Technical Services Command Michael Fitzgerald said the bill if passed would give authorities "unprecedented but necessary" capacity to expedite investigations.
He then listed some of the cases which had been hampered by current laws, which the committee earlier heard were outdated for the digital 21st Century era and often took up to two years to attain evidence for a criminal case.
Cmndr Fitzgerald said NSW Police, which made the most use of current telecommunications interceptions Act requests for evidence in the country, has had to drop 16 serious stalking charges due to inadequate laws.
"Unfortunately many cowards who harass their partners use fake Facebook accounts to stalk and intimidate them. This process will allow us to not have to wait a year for the information," he said.
He said in one case a man made threats to kill between 2002 and 2015 via multiple Facebook accounts created using the victim's deceased family members. An application was made for evidence overseas in 2014 and Facebook complied with the application in 2019. New laws would compel them to act sooner.
He added: "I've got examples of aggravated sexual assaults of 14-year-old girls in 2018, where the provider has told us it will take up to two years to get stored comms data. We have murder investigations where we've had offenders charged and we've had to wait up to a year to two years to get information from those providers."
He said up to 1000 investigations a year would benefit from the new laws.
Microsoft gave evidence to the committee agreeing with the interception law amendments but wanting the right, like in US law, to tell "customers" when authorities had asked to tap their stored information.
Originally published as Police get shock new powers to intercept private phone calls