Australian NSW Police want warrantless bank data access

Police want access to banking data without judicial oversight.image www.austelagencies.com
Police want access to banking data without judicial oversight.

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The NSW Police Force would no longer require a judge’s sign-off to gain access to the bank statements of people they suspect are engaging in criminal conduct under a police proposal before the NSW government.

The proposal would change the status quo, which requires a magistrate or registrar of a court to sign off on a “notice to produce” before police can force banking institutions to hand over documentation, such as a suspected criminal’s bank statements.
Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis image www.austelagencies.com

Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

The proposal would instead allow a senior police officer to sign off.

Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis, head of NSW Police’s Fraud and Cyber Crime Squad, revealed the proposal in a lunch interview with Fairfax Media (read the full interview here).

Detective Katsogiannis said it was being floated following the imminent trial of a new information retrieval (IR) system which would help automate some manual processes for collecting intelligence from banks.

“If we want documentation from the banks … we still need to go to a court and see a chamber magistrate to be able to get a notice to produce to get that documentation so it can be admissible as evidence in a court,” he said. “We’ve recently put a submission up to government seeking an amendment to that [so] that a commissioned officer would be able to authorise notices to produce.”

Detective Katsogiannis said the computerised system would enable officers to “go online and request banking documentation, statements, affidavits and the like” and get it “a lot quicker and more efficiently”. The next step – allowing a senior officer to sign off on access to banking information – would make it even faster.

He likened the proposal to the way telecommunications metadata – such as the time a call was made, to whom, and for how long – is sought from telcos, which requires only the sign-off a senior officer before companies, such as Telstra or Optus, divulge such information.

Asked about the NSW Police Force proposal, a spokeswoman for NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Police, Troy Grant, said it was examined last year as part of a review into the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002.

“… Changes were made to streamline the process but fell short of allowing all commissioned officers with the authority access [to] people’s bank statements,” Mr Grant said. “The review attempted to balance the needs of police to get on with the job and having appropriate safeguards of people’s personal information.”

But as the new Minister for Police, Mr Grant said he had requested a full briefing to examine “if further improvements can be made”.

NSW Police’s submission to last year’s review was never made public. Mr Grant’s spokeswoman said this was because it was provided to the review in confidence as it contained “operational matters”.

However, in the review’s final report, handed down by the NSW Department of Attorney-General and Justice, and Ministry for Police and Emergency Services, the authors paraphrased submissions made by the NSW Police Force and NSW Police Association.

The review said both entities wanted senior officers rather than parties outside the police force to be given the power to sign off on access to banking information. NSW Police stated, the report said, that this “would represent a reduction in red tape by delivering significant benefits for police in savings of resources, paperwork and unnecessary travel”.

Both parties also wanted the range of entities that have to comply with notices to produce to be expanded.

But the report did not recommend the notice to produce laws change to the extent a judge wasn’t needed, saying “it would be inappropriate for a senior member of police to be given the authority” to issue the notices.

“…There are significant privacy implications,” the report concluded

“The independent issuing authority is a necessary safeguard to ensure that civil liberties are not unnecessarily impinged upon.”

The report also shot down the possibility that notices to produce apply to other entities, such as casinos, bookmakers and currency exchanges.

David Shoebridge, a Greens MP in the NSW Legislative Council, said he had concerns.

“Bank records contain a cornucopia of personal information that should be protected from casual access by the NSW Police,” he said. “If police have a reasonable basis to believe that access to someone’s bank account details can help them solve a crime then they can already get the information by a warrant.”

When recently asked, none of the big four banks would disclose how many times they have handed over banking information.

While banking information is highly personal and can reveal spending habits, including where you shop and what time, some don’t see it as that private. Sydney-based start-up Pocketbook, for instance, has some 150,000 users who voluntarily hand over their banking information in return for a useful service that organises their spending into categories such as clothes, groceries and fuel – showing where money is being spent.

Fairfax Media recently reported that NSW Police made 166 requests for Opal smartcard data, which doesn’t require a warrant to access.
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Henry Sapiecha

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