Police to get power to spy without warrant

Andrew Clennell

POLICE and other investigative bodies will be able to bug or track people for up to five days without needing a warrant, under legislation the State Government describes as “the biggest ever shake-up of surveillance laws in NSW law enforcement history”.

Under the Surveillance Devices Bill police will also be given warrants to use the listening and tracking devices and hidden cameras for 90 days, instead of 21, to “cut red tape”, the Premier, Morris Iemma, said in Parliament yesterday.

The president of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, Cameron Murphy, said the legislation would provide the sort of powers that “allowed police corruption in this state to grow”.

“This is about reducing oversight,” he said. “Where is the evidence this is necessary? Police have been quite easily able to obtain warrants.”

Police would be able to call for a “retrospective warrant” if there was an “imminent threat of serious violence to a person or substantial damage to property”, Mr Iemma said.

They could use the devices for five days before applying to a judge for a warrant, he said.

The legislation would cover “listening devices, optical devices, data surveillance used to record and monitor information on a computer, and tracking devices which monitor the location of a person or object”, he said.

Some new technology that has been unregulated will fall under the changes, which affect the police, Police Integrity Commission, Independent Commission Against Corruption and NSW Crime Commission.

Yesterday the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, referred to the use of isotopes.

“Apparently, with the technology now, you can have isotopes sprayed on the person of someone and, under this legislation, you’re able to have that authorised for tracking purposes,” Mr Hatzistergos said.

“That’s a new technology. It’s just one of the examples [where] a person’s movement is able to be tracked … a lot of this kind of material is particularly familiar to the Crime Commission.”

Warrants for installing listening and monitoring devices will be simplified so police can use several devices under one warrant. At present a warrant is required for each device.

The laws will allow the use of surveillance devices on vehicles, containers and boxes that might be moved in a drug operation, and on people, and will allow someone to be monitored if they move interstate.

Mr Iemma said yesterday: “Crooks are getting smarter and technology is getting more advanced, and these laws guarantee police will remain ahead of the game.

“All other Australian states and territories are signing up to these laws. This means that law enforcement agencies in every state and territory will be working off the same book.

“All other warrants [other than emergency warrants] will also go to the Supreme Court except tracking devices, which police will be able to obtain from a magistrate.”

Mr Iemma mentioned investigations in which listening devices had helped in drug raids and arrests for murder.

Mr Murphy said some of the technology was “frightening” and asked why police would need a warrant for 90 days.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General said the bill had yet to be finalised and would be introduced in a fortnight.