Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Police 'Legally' Search Mobile Phone Records Of Journalists To Source Leaks And Whistleblowers

By Darryl Mason

It's a story you might think would have got more media coverage, considering it concerns...the media, as well as being a story that heralds a stunning invasion of their private and professional lives. But clearly the death of Anna Nicole Smith was far more important.

It's surprising enough to learn that police are able to access the 'cell' phone records of journalists, without their knowledge.

But it's shocking to think that this is being done to discover the source of journalists secret sources, to uncover the names and locations of those who 'leak' information to the media, or "blow the whistle" on police corruption and criminal behaviour.

If they can do it to journos because news reports using undisclosed sources can lead to embarrassment for senior cops and government ministers, what exactly do you think they're doing with your phone records?

The days of "If you haven't done anything wrong, you've got nothing to worry about" are dead and gone.

This is the age of "If you haven't done anything wrong, we're still going to have a good look around your private data and keep a permanent record of it for later, just in case."

From the Sunday Telegraph :

NSW Police are combing through the mobile phone records of journalists trying to find whistleblowers who have given information to the media. The Sunday Telegraph has been told the practice has become common since the Macquarie Fields riots in early 2005.

Newspaper and radio reports following the riots exposed serious shortcomings among senior NSW Police.

The leaks embarrassed Commissioner Ken Moroney and the Government.

Presumably "common" means "daily".

Police Commissioner Moroney refused to answer any of the ten questions submitted by the Sunday Telegraph, but he did issue the following, fact-filled, chilling, statement :

"The Telecommunications Act 1997 governs the circumstances in which telecommunications carriers may disclose mobile phone records. The NSW police force obtains access to this information within the bounds of this legislative scheme. It is not in the public interest for the NSW police force to disclose its investigative methodology.''

It appears the police commissioner is not only saying this is all perfectly legal and nothing new, but that they may have been combing journalists 'cell' phone records for 10 years.

In fact, forget maybe and think definitely instead.

The exploitation of provisions within the 1997 Telecommunications Act has clearly allowed police to cross-check the phone records of journalists, without their knowledge, over the past decade, and may have already yielded the identites of numerous whistleblowers and leakers.

The sheer fact that such privacy violating provisions exist within the law also acts as a powerful psychological weapon.

If you had the 'scoop' on some corrupt coppers and the phone number of a journalist you knew would be interested, but you then read the Sunday Telegraph story, you'd be thinking twice about contacting that journalist by any method of communication other than semaphore flags from a distant hilltop.

But then that fear of exposure might be the exact kind of deterrent desired, in the first place, by those who wish to discover the identity of once anonymous whistleblowers and leakers.


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