Listen up: Govt law to aid eavesdropping

Bugs deployed based on chance.

It will be easier for law enforcement to install wiretaps in public telephones, cafe computers and mobile phones under proposed amendments to the Telecommunications (Interception) Act (TIA) discussed in a Senate hearing last week.

The amendments will allow law enforcement agencies to wiretap devices not specified under interception warrants and supply data across agencies for separate investigations.

The Australian Federal Police and the Attorney-General's Department met with senators and privacy advocacy groups to discuss whether the changes are in breach of the Privacy Act and how it can increase the responsiveness of law enforcement.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) spokesperson Peter Whowell said the TIA is stifling law enforcement efforts to catch criminals using multiple devices to communicate.

The [amendments] permit monitoring of a conversation between to people known to be innocent.

Senator Bob Brown, Greens party

"The overall time taken to add new [devices] to warrants is not quick enough [because] satisfying legislation takes time," Whowell said.

"We're losing access if [suspects] are counter-acting to interception."

The TIA specifies that law enforcement must acquire separate warrants for each device planned for interception. The changes would include device interception under a broader service warrant.

The bone of contention is whether wiretapping is a breach of third party privacy, and has put consumer advocacy groups at loggerheads with proponents.

Conversations unintentionally recorded through wiretaps can be distributed to law enforcement agencies around the country for separate criminal investigations, according to Whowell.

Data irrelevant to investigations is destroyed at the expiration of warrants in accordance with section 68 of the Act.

Privacy groups expressed outraged over a clause in the bill which states devices will be wiretapped based on the likelihood of a suspect using them.

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