Figures from the Attorney-General’s Department are in, and Australia continues to listen in to phone calls and peek at emails at an alarming rate. In the 2012-2013 period, police and government agencies spent more than $50 million on phone taps, accompanied by increases across the board to interception – some of it with a warrant, some of it not.
NSW Police obtained 1570 warrants for telephone interception in the period, dwarfing the Federal Police’s 540, and the 232 by Victoria Police. NSW Police also managed to average $3538 per warrant, compared with the Federal Police’s $16,712 and Victoria Police’s $27,377, suggesting better targeting of surveillance.
The Age reports that in the last 20 years, telephone interception has increased eightfold, whereas the number of convictions has increased roughly fivefold.
But to access the metadata of a call or email, a warrant isn’t needed – the action instead being approved by senior officials within the police force. For more information on what metadata is, check the Guardian’s metadata guide. But simply put, with metadata, one can prove you made a call from a certain location to a certain number, or that you sent an email to a certain address at a certain time – subject line included – with no judicial approval. Metadata is hardly trivial.
Such warrantless interceptions occurred 6358 times every week last period, for a total of 330,640 instances.
Despite the Pirate Party, Wikileaks Party, and Greens having a strong pro-privacy stance on the matter, mass surveillance wasn’t an election issue months ago, with neither of the two big parties willing to speak about it. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has again called for reform, highlighting the fact that our current legislation was penned in a time before the internet: 1979.
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