australia | Publication of Ombudsman Surveillance Devices Report

The Attorney-General presented the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s report on oversight of agencies’ use of surveillance device powers under the Surveillance Devices Act 2004(Cth) (the Act) from 1 July to 31 December 2021.

This Act provides for law enforcement and integrity agencies to obtain warrants and authorisations to use surveillance devices. The Act restricts the use, communication and publication of information obtained through using surveillance devices. The Act also imposes requirements for the secure storage and destruction of records relating to the use of surveillance devices.

The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman carries out annual inspections of each agency that uses surveillance device powers under the Act. We inspect agency records and engage with officers and agency staff to examine compliance with the Act. The Commonwealth Ombudsman, Mr Iain Anderson, reports to the Attorney‑General as Minister responsible for the Act every 6 months on the results of inspections conducted during each half of the financial year. The Commonwealth Ombudsman does not oversee the use of powers under state and territory surveillance device legislation.

“My reports provide transparency to Parliament and the public about how law enforcement and integrity agencies use surveillance devices under Commonwealth legislation”, said Mr Anderson.

This report for the period 1 July to 31 December 2021 includes the results from one inspection of the Western Australia Police Force (WA Police). The Ombudsman made 2 suggestions and 1 better practice suggestion after finding that destructions of protected information occurred without an order from the chief officer, and that 2 reports to the Minister under s 49 of the Act contained insufficient information.

“I am pleased WA Police developed standard operating procedures for destructions and provided this to staff in response to my suggestions”, said Mr Anderson. “WA Police engaged openly and constructively with my Office’s inspection team.”

The report also includes the results of a review of the New South Wales Law Enforcement Conduct Commission surveillance devices policies and procedures supporting compliance with the Act.

“I commend the NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission for engaging with my Office on a review of its policies and procedures, which is not compulsory under the Act”, said Mr Anderson. “This demonstrates the importance the Commission places on proactive work to comply with the Act’s requirements.”

The report can be found on the Commonwealth Ombudsman website here.

The Ombudsman’s next report on agencies’ use of surveillance devices under the Act is due to the Attorney-General by 30 September 2022, covering our inspections from 1 January to 30 June 2022.


Source: Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Australia

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