Rhys Liam Halvey was in for a surprise when, after four months of illegal surveillance on his private Facebook page, he was arrested and charged with three counts of using a carriage service to offend police and three counts of publishing an indecent article. The arrest has since led to a formal complaint to the Police Integrity Commission, with a magistrate ordering costs against the police and condemning their actions as a “criminal offence”.
Regardless of the fact that the charges laid against Halvey by the police surmounted to little more than ‘he made fun of me and I didn’t like it’, the surveillance tactics used by the police were also found to be illegal. All six charges for which Halvey was arrested were later withdrawn and dismissed, with Sydney magistrate Roger Brown calling them “trivial”.
The surveillance began in November 2013 when NSW Police Senior Constable Daniel Moss used a username and password not belonging to him to spy on a closed Facebook page belonging to someone called “Rhys Brown”. The “derogatory” posts in question featured a police infringement notice and photographs of several serving officers taken in Sydney. One included an image of Miley Cyrus twerking, superimposed over the photo of the officer in a compromising pose.
While the magistrate warned police they had committed a “criminal offence” with the “unauthorised access”, a senior member of the NSW police has stepped in with two sworn affidavits that were supportive of Moss’s actions. The senior official also requested Constable Moss be excused from further cross examination “about how certain Facebook posts were obtained”, with a claim that it would be “injurious” to public interest if “those questions were to be answered”.
Magistrate Brown denied the request, although the case has only led to more questions, with many wanting to know just how far this police monitoring has gone. According to NSW Council of Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks, the public confidence in police could be undermined by their inability to acknowledge the times when it ‘does the wrong thing’, the SMH reported.
“How deep in police culture is this willingness to break the law?” he asked. “Even after they have been caught out, it would appear no adverse consequences are going to be suffered by those responsible because the illegal actions are supported by police at the most senior level.”
Mr Halvey’s barrister, Andrea Turner, also had questions to ask in a formal complaint to the Police Integrity Commission. “Exactly how widespread is this snooping? There is no difference to the police trespassing on a Facebook page for four months and my steaming open my neighbour’s mail in the hope of one day finding something, anything, to report to police.” The NSW Ombudsman has now referred the complaint back to the police for investigation.
During a hearing in April, Constable Moss revealed that he did not have a Supreme Court warrant or any judicial authority for his unlawful surveillance of Halvey’s Facebook page, despite having accessed it “frequently” during the four month period.
In September, the case was withdrawn and dismissed and $14,429 in costs was ordered against the police. A NSW Police spokesman told the SMH on Friday that an investigation was “currently running.”