Top cop's claims cast shadow over data-retention plan

As Australian lawmakers debate legislation forcing telcos to retain customers' metadata for a minimum of two years, NSW Police deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas has claimed that he and others have been the target of inappropriately warranted electronic surveillance by his own force.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

A parliamentary submission by NSW Police deputy commissioner Naguib "Nick" Kaldas claims that an internal affairs unit of the state's police force had inappropriately obtained warrants to electronically bug not only him, but also other police officers and members of the public.

The claim comes as Australian lawmakers debate proposed new legislation enforcing two-year mandatory metadata retention by the nation's telcos for warrantless access to individuals' information by law-enforcement agencies.

The submission (PDF) by Kaldas, dated January 19, was published on Thursday by the parliamentary inquiry into the conduct and progress of the Ombudsman's Operation Prospect.

Operation Prospect was set up in 2012 to investigate allegations concerning the conduct of officers of the NSW Police Force, the NSW Crime Commission, and the Police Integrity Commission in relation to a number of investigations occurring between 1998 and 2002.

In his submission, Kaldas claims that the NSW Police Force's Special Crime and Internal Affairs (SCIA) unit -- formerly headed up by now-NSW Police commissioner Andrew Scipione and deputy commissioner Catherine Burn -- falsified affidavits in order to gain warrants for his electronic surveillance as part of a covert operation dubbed Operation Mascot/Florida in the early 2000s.

"I consider the targeting of me through Operation Mascot/Florida to have been baseless and inappropriate," said Kaldas in his submission.

In 2002, according to Kaldas, an internal police operation, Strikeforce Emblems, was established to investigate Operation Mascot/Florida. Kaldas was one of the complainants to Strike Force Emblems, and was interviewed at the time.

Also in 2002, commissioner at the time Peter Ryan said in an interview that a large number of people had been named as the subjects of a listening device warrant, Kaldas said in his submission.

Kaldas said that in 2003, senior assistant commissioner Peter Walsh stated that to have been named in the warrant, it was not necessary for a person to have been suspected of any wrongdoing.

"These public statements cannot be correct in light of the documents that came to light in 2012... This must mean that at some point in the process, somebody engaged in deliberate deception," said Kaldas in his submission. "It was entirely inappropriate for SCIA to target me in light of the absence of any evidence to justify that targeting.

"False information and/or omissions were used in swearing affidavits for warrants to bug people, for example, in an affidavit in support of a telephone intercept warrant for the address at which my ex-wife and my children resided.

"The level of intense electronic and other surveillance carried out on every aspect of my life, home, and work, my ex-wife, and children, was totally unjustified, but in the end yielded not one allegation to be put to me at the end of the operation," he said.

While the NSW Police Force is remaining silent on the matter, Kaldas' claims not only throw into question the law-enforcement agency's appropriate access to, and handling of, intercepted telecommunications information under warrant; they also highlight some of the concerns outlined by opponents to the so-called third tranche of the federal government's anti-terror legislation.

The (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill, if passed by parliament, will force Australian internet service providers and telecommunications companies to retain customers' non-content data -- or metadata -- for a minimum of two years, in order for intelligence and law-enforcement agencies to have warrantless access to the information for investigation purposes.

However, in November last year, the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights raised concerns about the proposed legislation, saying that the move was "very intrusive of privacy."

The proposed scheme clearly limits the right to privacy," it said in a report last year.

Additionally, Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim warned in August 2014 that the retention of large amounts of data will inevitably increase the chances of a privacy breach occurring.

Telstra has mirrored Pilgrim's comments, telling the parliamentary committee reviewing the proposed legislation that the system it would need to build to store customers' metadata for two years would effectively represent a goldmine of detailed information for would-be hackers.

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