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Interception an effective crime-fighting tool.

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Media Contact: Carina Tan-Van Baren (02) 6277 7300/ 0419 423 965

16 September 2002 95/02


Criminals are increasingly using telecommunications technology in the course of committing crimes, contributing to a rise in interceptions by law enforcement agencies.

The most common categories of offences listed in telecommunications interception warrants are narcotics, drug trafficking, bribery or corruption, and murder. These warrants are a vital crime-fighting tool.

If Labor is concerned about the use of telecommunications interception to fight crime, it should spell out the areas of criminal activity not worth investigating.

In the year ending 30 June 2001, 2157 interception warrants were issued to State and Federal law enforcement agencies - up from 1689 the previous year. The majority of warrants were issued in State and Territory jurisdictions.

In the same period, 890 prosecutions involved lawfully obtained interception information given in evidence, an increase from 836 the previous year.

In some cases, the use of intercepted information has led to guilty pleas by offenders, avoiding lengthy and expensive trials.

It is not possible to make meaningful comparisons between interception statistics for the United States and Australia due to the clear differences in the regimes and associated safeguards.

The US does not have a uniform or consolidated approach to the issuing of interception warrants across all jurisdictions. In Australia, all such warrants are regulated under one regime and are subject to considerable safeguards.

The use of telecommunications interception is subject to stringent criteria and is overseen by Commonwealth and State ombudsmen. In addition, an annual report must be tabled in Parliament under the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979.

Factors contributing to the increase in warrants and prosecutions include:

• An increase in the use of telephone services, particularly mobile services;

• An increase in the number of suspects, particularly those engaged in drug related crime, exploiting telecommunications advances by using multiple services; and

• An increasing recognition of the usefulness of interception as an investigative tool in circumstances where alternative means of investigation would be ineffective.