AFP accessed journalists’ metadata almost 60 times in 2017–18

AFP accessed journalists’ metadata almost 60 times in 2017–18

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) accessed the metadata of journalists almost 60 times in one year, according to disclosures made to the first review of Australia’s mandatory data retention regime.

Under amendments made to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act in 2015, all telecommunications service providers are required to store detailed phone and Internet records for their customers for a minimum of two years.

Government agencies, including the AFP, can access that information by obtaining a warrant, and disclosing the existence of such a warrant carries a penalty of up to two years imprisonment.

Accessing the metadata of journalists risk identifying their sources, which may include whistleblowers within government departments.

Documents prepared by the AFP show that investigators obtained two “journalist information warrants” during the 2017–18 financial year, which were used to access journalists’ metadata on 58 occasions.

During the same period the AFP raided ABC reporters Daniel Oakes and Sam Clark, as well as News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, after being tasked with investigating the leaking of government material.

The AFP has refused to comment on whether the journalist information warrants were connected to the two unrelated cases, but maintains that no changes to the data retention regime are needed.

“Access to telecommunications data is a critical investigative and intelligence-gathering tool,” a spokesperson said on Monday.

“It is used in almost all investigations into criminal activity, serious civil infringements and of intelligence matters.

“Given its investigative value, it is important that Australia’s law enforcement and security agencies continue to have reliable access to telecommunications data.”

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PCJIS) is conducting reviews into both the impact of law enforcement powers on press freedom and the mandatory data retention regime, with reports expected in October 2019 and April 2020 respectively.

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