Police would get access to more telecommunications customer information faster, under a bill introduced to federal parliament today by communications minister Michelle Rowland.
The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Information Disclosure, National Interest And Other Measures) Bill is in part a response to a recommendation made in a coronial inquest in NSW in 2020.
Rowland said her office received a request in October from the NSW deputy state coroner requesting the legislation.
“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,” Rowland said.
“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.”
The bill’s explanatory memorandum provides more detail: “In both the Inquest into the death of Thomas Hunt (findings released 4 September 2020), and another recent inquest which has not been made public, the ‘imminent’ qualifier was a barrier to progressing a triangulation request that may have helped locate the individuals in question”.
Triangulation refers to using a mobile phone’s distance from multiple phone towers to determine its location.
The amendment also brings the Telecommunications Act into line with information use permitted by the Privacy Act.
Other changes in the bill include improving emergency disclosures to Triple Zero, and greater transparency of disclosures made by telcos.
The record-keeping component will be delayed by six months after the bill comes into force, so telcos can implement changes to their IT systems.
Telecommunications companies providing assistance to the commonwealth, states or territories will be given civil immunity for providing assistance in emergencies.