Australian Police illegally obtain journalist’s phone records

The Australian Federal Police have admitted to illegally obtaining a journalist’s phone record earlier this year – because the officers “did not know” that they needed a warrant.

On Friday, AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin claimed that officers who were investigating a leak of confidential police material did not know that they needed a warrant to obtain the journalist’s phone records.

“This was human error. It should not have occurred. The AFP takes it very seriously and we take full responsibility for breaching the Act,” Colvin said during a news conference.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin journalist phone records

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin

The records were obtained under the Turnbull government’s new metadata retention regime, which requires cellphone providers to store customer’s phone records for two years, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

“The vulnerability is the investigator needs to understand that that’s their requirement,” Colvin said of the requirement for law enforcement to, indeed, obtain warrants. “On this occasion, the investigator didn’t.”

The journalist has not been named or informed that their data was illegally accessed. Colvin said that this was due to the ongoing investigation into the leak. The AFP commissioner said that the records were still relevant to the investigation, and that “what was improper was that the right steps weren’t taken to gain access to [them].”

When questioned about whether or not he would still be using the records in their case, Colvin said, “clearly they can’t unsee it. They’ll need to consider… what weight they put on what they saw, but that material was accessed illegally, so it can have no bearing on the conduct of the investigation.”

The incident is now under investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.