Changes to telecommunications legislation will help save lives
The Australian Government has moved quickly to improve the ability of police and emergency services to locate missing people and other Australians at risk of serious harm during time-critical investigations, with the vital Information Disclosure Bill passing through the Senate.
Changes to the Telecommunications Act 1997 will better allow telcos to provide law enforcement and emergency services with voluntary information and assistance if it would help prevent a ‘serious’ threat to a person’s life or health.
This removes the previous requirement for a threat to also be ‘imminent,’ which is often impossible to prove in many cases and will speed up the telcos’ process of providing triangulation services to police.
Steps to make changes to the Act were taken after the NSW Deputy State Coroner raised concerns with the Minister for Communications in mid-October 2022 about constraints on law enforcement agencies’ access to information during public safety incidents such as life-threatening situations.
These issues were highlighted following inquests into two tragic and separate cases of missing residents in NSW.
The Bill is accompanied by the introduction of stronger privacy protections, consent-based safeguards, and oversight measures to ensure that only necessary and potentially life-saving disclosures are made.
In consultation with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, the Bill also introduces changes to the Act to improve transpararency and reporting through more detailed record-keeping of authorised disclosures.
The Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee finalised its report on the Bill earlier this month, stating that it strikes an appropriate balance between the right to privacy and ensuring public safety, and recommend that the Bill be passed.
Quotes attributable to Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP:
“These are life-saving changes to the Telecommunications Act, which is why the Government acted swiftly to remove these barriers just five months after the Deputy Coroner urged us to take action.
“We know how time-critical cases of missing persons are, and the passing of this Bill will bolster the powers of law enforcement and emergency services as they work to return missing loved ones to their families and friends.
“These important changes strike an appropriate balance between maintaining individual privacy and protecting public safety, and I am confident they will make a real difference.”