April 29, 2002: Phone call spies busy - Big Brother alive in Australia
Thousands of Australia's (Popn: 20 million) phone records are being secretly examined by police and government investigators.
Phone companies released an average of 2000 records a day (750,000) in 2001, revealing who their customers called for how long and where.
The information is given to police and other authorised investigators who request it, often by e-mail.
No warrants are need, and those who suspect their records have been probed have got no way of finding out.
Phone records can be obtained by a range of government agencies, including all state and federal police forces and the tax office. State revenue authorities, Customs, ASIO and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission also have access.
Widespread access to phone records has angered civil liberties groups and prompted public complaints, but the Federal Government has defended it as a popular investigatory method.
Under the Telecommunications Act, investigators get access to call records if the carrier agrees the data is reasonably necessary for investigating a crime or offence carrying a fine, or to prevent the loss of public money. Urgent requests are granted in two hours.
Sophisticated computer analysis allows investigators to gather details about a suspects circle of friend and contacts.
Mobile phone records reveal a suspect's whereabouts as the location of the transmission tower carrying the call is recorded.
The 750,000 disclosures came despite a warning to investigators to stop using the facility to find addresses from phone numbers, which can be done using existing data bases.
These reverse phone-book requests made up to 80% of the disclosures.