The Independent Commission Against Corruption is kicking all sorts of goals this year. The NSW anti-corruption body has managed to not only dethrone a sitting Premier over a bottle of wine, but it has also claimed more than a handful of other scalps, forcing MPs to quit their parties and take a seat on the Parliamentary crossbenches, or quit politics all together. So how is the anti-corruption watchdog kicking so many goals? Isn’t it obvious? Metadata.
According to a report from Fairfax, the ICAC is trawling through piles of metadata from state MPs and their staffers to find out who was where when and who was talking to whom.
What’s more than a little concerning is the official quote from the ICAC that says it can access whatever metadata it likes in connection with its ongoing investigations without a warrant, confirming in a statement to the Sydney Morning Herald:
The commission is able to obtain metadata without a warrant. It has no further comment to make.
The ICAC can certainly obtain warrants to listen in on calls as they’re placed and scoop up messages as they’re sent under the Telecommunications Interception Act, but why go to the trouble of gaining a specific warrant when placing a corruption suspect in the wrong place at the wrong time through the analysis of metadata is so much easier?
Take the dethroning of former New South Wales Premier, Barry O’Farrell for example.
O’Farrell resigned as Premier after the ICAC showed he accepted a $3000 bottle of wine from an Australian Water Holdings executive, which he later thanked the executive for. Australian Water Holdings is under investigation by the ICAC for its attempts to secure government contracts.
O’Farrell says he does not recall accepting the gift, nor does he remember thanking the AWH executive for it, but ICAC investigators were able to place the now former Premier in the wrong place at the wrong time by showing him call logs between himself and the AWH executive which lasted for 28 seconds. That call was made soon after O’Farrell and his government took office, which is likely when the gift was also received. The Premier was cooked by metadata.
When the metadata storage plan was first introduced as a counter-terrorism solution by the Prime Minister, it was said that warrantless access to metadata wouldn’t be used to tackle “general crime”, but since then the PM has indicated otherwise.
With bodies like the ICAC now using metadata as a weapon against crime and corruption, is there any hope left for our privacy?
Should law enforcement agencies have warrantless access to metadata in the case of general crimes? Tell us in the comments what you think.
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