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Phone tapping into crime

By Michael Bosscher - posted Thursday, 31 May 2007

There are serious risks and some public confusion around State Government moves to give Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission and police phone tapping powers.

There is enormous potential for civil liberties breaches and the planned new powers raise the spectre of the CMC and police using phone taps for “fishing expeditions” against Queenslanders.

It is also disquieting that the Queensland Government has been vague on how it plans to involve the state’s Public Interest Monitor in the phone- tap warrant approval process.


Nor is it clear whether the new phone tap laws will cover all forms of telecommunications. Will the legislation - the Telecommunications Interception Bill 2007 - also include SMS messages on mobile phones, mobile phone calls and even emails, all of which could be regarded as a form of telecommunications?

I disagree with the whole concept of phone tap powers but the State Government wants to bring Queensland into line with the phone tapping powers of other states.

If they are going to do it then the authority approving these warrants should be a Supreme Court justice at a minimum.

The idea introduces the spectre of giving the CMC and police the power to just tap phones in the hope you catch someone out. When you start chipping away at the public’s rights, you undermine the foundations of our civil liberties.

There has been little, if any opportunity for public debate on this proposed law change. It was presented to the public as a fait accompli.

The public would have a right to be suspicious and have deep concerns when there is insufficient opportunity for them to have a say on decisions such as this.


There are already federal laws in Australia which in certain circumstances give the police powers to tap phones. The current system is more than adequate. These proposed new powers take it much further.

Federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock made headlines when he questioned the role of the Public Interest Monitor in the Queensland move. In media reports he suggested the PIM would be the person approving or refusing phone tap requests, whereas in other states and territories it was the courts that approved or denied phone tap warrants.

Mr Ruddock wondered why Queensland Premier Peter Beattie did not have faith in the courts to play a similar role in Queensland and said it was unreasonable for Queensland to be the only state to insist that applications for warrants be vetted by the Public Interest Monitor.

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About the Author

Michael Bosscher is managing partner of Brisbane-based national criminal defence law firm Ryan & Bosscher Lawyers.

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