Arrests soar after new wiretap law

Police access stored conversations for the first time

Criminal arrests made under more powerful wiretapping laws have increase by 96 percent following reforms that make it easier for police to intercept and access telecommunications.

In a report tabled in parliament, Attorney General Robert McClelland said 45 arrests were made during the year ending June 2008, thanks to amendments to the Telecommunications (Interceptions) Act that allow police to access stored intercepted telecommunications data.

The amendments have made it easier for law enforcement to wiretap devices such as public telephones and computers, and have introduced changes that allow police to monitor devices not specified on interception warrants.

“This is an increase of 96 percent on [the previous] year’s figure, demonstrating that it is an extremely effective tool for enforcement agencies investigating serious crimes,” McClelland said in a statement.

“Telecommunications interception is a vital and important tool against serious crime.”

McClelland said the interception laws assisted with some 2542 convictions and 3916 prosecutions in the year to June 2008, a respective increase of 13 percent and 47 percent since the previous year.

He said it was the first year that law enforcement agencies were able to access telecommunications data under the amended Act.

Privacy groups are concerned wiretapping conversations may breach third party privacy. Recorded communications can be distributed to law enforcement agencies around the country for separate criminal investigations, according to the Australian Federal Police.

The report covered the first year that law enforcement agencies were able to access telecommunications data under the Act .

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