Concerns have been raised about how law enforcement and integrity agencies access and store telecommunications data. 

Under the stringent guidelines of the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act, authorities are mandated to adhere to strict protocols for data acquisition. 

A review by the Commonwealth Ombudsman has scrutinised the use of these powers across 21 agencies.

The review found Victoria Police is the agency most frequently authorising access to data for purposes not aligned with the legislation.

The Covert Electronic Surveillance report (PDF) found numerous instances where the justification for accessing data failed to demonstrate its use for enforcing criminal law or locating missing individuals. 

There were significant cases where the allegations cited incorrect legislation, marking a repeated oversight for Victoria Police. 

This misapplication of authorisation provisions jeopardises the legality of the accessed data and the accuracy of ministerial reporting, the report highlighted.

Victoria Police has acknowledged these discrepancies, citing a “small number” of non-compliance instances. 

It says efforts are underway to ensure full compliance with the act's requirements, involving extensive educational measures to acquaint police personnel with their obligations concerning data access requests.

Despite a reduction in non-compliance incidents in 2022/23 compared to the previous year, the report still identified shortcomings such as inadequate record-keeping and insufficient staff training. 

Ombudsman Iain Anderson says there is a need for a “mature culture of compliance” for the responsible management of covert law enforcement operations. 

While most agencies have refined their policies and procedures, he says inconsistencies in application remain a concern.

Additionally, the report flagged risks associated with other agencies potentially accessing data on Queensland Police’s system. The nature of the disclosed data to these agencies remains unclear, as does the legality under the Act. 

Queensland Police has reportedly addressed any instances of non-compliance immediately.

The Ombudsman said that while all agencies demonstrated receptiveness to the findings, the report advocates for regular, targeted training to ensure adherence to legal stipulations.