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Telecommunications interception and surveillance

The Attorney-General's Department administers the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (the TIA Act) and the Surveillances Devices Act 2004 (the SD Act).

The TIA Act protects the privacy of Australians by prohibiting the interception of communications or access to stored communications. The privacy of Australians is also protected by the Telecommunications Act 1997, which prohibits telecommunications service providers from disclosing information (telecommunications data) about their customers' use of telecommunications services.

The TIA Act sets out certain exceptions to these prohibitions to permit eligible Australian law enforcement and security agencies to:

  • obtain warrants to intercept communications
  • obtain warrants to access stored communications
  • authorise the disclosure of telecommunications data.

Agencies can only obtain warrants or give authorisations for national security or law enforcement purposes set out in the TIA Act.

The SD Act governs the use of surveillance devices by Australian Government agencies. Under the SD Act, an eligible Australian government agency can apply for a warrant to use a surveillance device to investigate a relevant offence.

Although the Attorney-General's Department administers the TIA Act and the SD Act, the department does not investigate crimes. If you think that your communications are being illegally intercepted or recorded you should report the matter to your local police.

On 24 June 2013 the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) tabled in Parliament its report on its inquiry into potential reforms of national security legislation. The report is available on the House of Representatives Committees page on the Parliament of Australia website.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee is holding an inquiry into the revision of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 with regard to previous recommendations of both the Australian Law Reform Commission (privacy issues) and the PJCIS (national security reforms). The committee is due to report on its findings by 27 August 2014. More information about the current Senate Committee inquiry is available on the Senate Committees page.