Amendments to telecommunications legislation will help find missing people

The Albanese Government has today taken urgent steps to strengthen emergency services capabilities in locating missing persons. This amendment will rectify a major gap in how emergency services can respond to threats to life with reforms to the Telecommunications Act 1997 introduced to Parliament today.

It follows a letter to the Minister for Communications in mid-October from the NSW Deputy State Coroner, which recommended the Government consider changes to the Act following an inquest into the disappearance of a NSW resident.

The Bill will remove a key barrier for law enforcement in requesting access to information from telecommunication companies. At present, to provide triangulation services to police, telecommunications companies must be satisfied that a threat to a person’s life or health is serious and imminent.

This barrier hindered law enforcement’s ability to locate people via the information telecommunication companies hold. This amendment will remove the ‘imminent’ requirement as it can often be impossible to show imminence in many cases, including in the case of missing persons.

This is not the first time these issues have been raised. In 2020, in an inquest into the death of another New South Wales resident, the NSW Coroner raised the unsatisfactory high bar to disclosure telecommunications data to save missing people.

The Bill will also enhance emergency disclosures to the Triple Zero emergency call service. Record keeping rules have also been updated to improve the transparency of disclosures made by telcos, including of underlying laws or warrants.

The Albanese Government intends to implement the amendments expeditiously, with the record keeping component to follow six months after to allow industry to implement IT changes.

Quotes attributable to the Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP:

“These are critical amendments to the Telecommunications Act and associated legislation which could very well save lives – and amendments which we are bringing forward just three weeks after the Deputy Coroner wrote to us recommending changes. This is because this Government believes in a timely response to matters that impact the safety of Australians.”

“This Bill deserves the support of both chambers of Parliament so law enforcement and emergency service organisations can do what they do best – save lives.”

“This is an important change to the way we deliver emergency services to Australians and I look forward to seeing this Bill passed to ensure we continue to put the safety of Australians first.”