Following the revelation last week that the AFP accessed a journalist’s metadata without a warrant, the LCA has reaffirmed its concerns over Australia’s mandatory data retention laws.
AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin told the media that the record of private calls between a police officer and a journalist were accessed during an investigation into an information leak. He said the actual content of the calls was not accessed, and that the breach was a result of human error.
This is the first breach that has come to light since the introduction of the Turnbull government’s mandatory metadata retention regime. The breach was reported to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, which is now investigating it.
Fiona McLeod SC, president of the LCA, said the public needs to be fully confident that the data retention laws are not being misused.
“The LCA has consistently expressed concern about the protection of confidential metadata information under the current laws,” she said.
“Earlier this year, for example, we warned against extension of metadata release for the purposes of civil proceedings.
“The requirement for the AFP to obtain a warrant prior to accessing journalists’ metadata retained under the mandatory data retention laws is an important mechanism for protecting the relationship between journalists and their sources.
“It is appropriate for this incident to be investigated by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, and it will be important for results of that investigation to be made public, so we can all understand how and why the breach happened.”
Ms McLeod said a new set of guidelines should be developed to direct the way the data retention laws are applied to journalists.
“Having a set of guidelines could improve accountability and transparency in the application of these laws,” she said.
“The Commonwealth Ombudsman should consider working with the AFP to develop and publish guidelines for the use of such special powers.”