Secret surveillance continues apace around Australia, according to a document submitted to parliament. But it achieves convictions in only 3% of cases…and there seems to be about 180 surveillance devices left behind, lost or missing-(still)-in-action. Read this report (under the covers)

Surveillance is 3% effective, report says

There are 93 judges and magistrates around Australia who can approve secret surveillance warrants for police and undercover agents to trace, track or surveil citizens.

And, to their credit, one or a number of those judges knocked back the Australian Federal Police six times last year because he, she or they:

  1. were reluctant to issue a warrant for the premises;
  2. deemed a lack of connectivity to the vehicle by the suspects
  3. deemed a lack of evidence linking the suspect to the offence;
  4. could not reasonably be satisfied that the contents of the affidavit allowed the
  5. issue of the warrant; and
  6. were reluctant to issue a warrant for a listening device to be utilised on the
  7. premises.

So says the annual report on spook surveillance in Australia, tabled in federal parliament by the Attorney-General, Mr McClelland in mid February (for the report’s formal name, see at bottom).

Mind you, the number of knock backs is 6 out of 355 requests (1.7%) and it was only the AFP that could not get it right! None of the other 14 or so enforcement agencies, which include for example the Australian Crime Commission and the Corruption and Crime Commission of WA, were knocked back by federal judicial officers.

As they all have powers under their own state legislation for secret surveillance, they may not have tried for a federal warrant; they normally only do so if a federal offence is involved. So the number of requests for surveillance warrants reported in this document for  federal parliament is the tiny tip of a very large iceberg.

There were 355 requests for surveillance warrants in the federal jurisdiction last financial year: that’s about one every single day. Given the State police and the quasi-spook agencies such as the crime commissions around Australia, it’s probably safe to say that there are two or three warrants issued just about every day for secret surveillance in Australia.

However, federally – despite the surfeit of judges and the plethora of investigating agencies – the raft of surveillance warrants and spy cameras, phone taps, listening devices and other high-tech spook gear does not seem to produce particularly good results.

For every 100 warrants issued in 2007-8, there were only 24 prosecutions…and a lowly 3 convictions. At 3% productiveness, you wonder why warrants are issued if they appear to be so poorly targeted…unless they are being used as ‘fishing’ rods, to see what else turns up during the watching/listening.

For the 2007-8 reporting period, there was a 15 % decrease in prosecutions and a 44% decrease in convictions involving surveillance device ‘product’ evidence.

The report of these declining indicators claims there was a 25% increase in the number of arrests: that may mean that the effectiveness rate next year could drop below even the pitiful 3% of this year.

CLA wonders what happens to the data collected that is not proceeded with or fails in a prosecution?  Is it destroyed? Perhaps the AFP could explain.

There’s a serious anomaly – or at least, a fascinating quirk – in the report under Table 5: Applications for tracking device authorisations.

Over the past three years, authorisation was given to use some 183 devices…but only 3 of the 183 have been ‘retrieved’, according to the table. Does that mean there are 180 tracking devices still in circulation, some of them after 3 years? Or were the devices recovered covertly, without authorisation? The report doesn’t say; again, the AFP might favour us with an explanation.

If the devices are still out there, best you check under your car, and in the light shades at home – you never know!

Surveillance Devices Act 2004: Report for the year ending 30 June 2008. 

Later in the same week, the Attorney-General also tabled a report on phone tap investigation tools used in 2007-8 by law enforcement agencies – telecommunications interception powers, access to stored communications and access to telecommunications data.

“Access to telecoms data has provided valuable information to 45 agencies during investigations into a wide range of offences,” Mr McClelland said.

The newly-amended Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 allows access to who owns a phone and the date/time of calls in criminal and civil cases.

“Information obtained under stored communications warrants led to 45 arrests this year,” Mr McClelland said. “This is an increase of 96% on last year’s figure, demonstrating that it is an extremely effective tool for enforcement agencies investigating serious crimes.”

He said that 2542 convictions resulted from intercepting telecom services, an increase of 13% on a year earlier.

“In the same year, lawful interception also assisted in 2056 arrests and the progression of 3916 prosecutions, representing increases of 18% and 47% on last year’s figures,” he said.

There is absolutely no doubt from these figures that Australia is increasingly becoming a more watched and surveilled society, where police and other snoop agencies may be just around the corner, or in the next room, listening in on and recording in sound and vision what you do and say.

Welcome to 2084!

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