26 September 2023

Ombudsman OK with police and their powers

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The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) have improved the way they conduct covert operations with the Commonwealth Ombudsman reporting a significant decrease in their issues.

Releasing a report on his oversight of covert powers, Ombudsman Iain Anderson said he had oversight of controlled operations, delayed notification search warrants, and health checks of Agencies’ preparedness to use new account takeover warrant powers passed by Parliament in 2021.

“Overall, we saw improvements in Agencies’ use of controlled operations,” Mr Anderson said.

“These are covert (undercover) operations carried out to obtain evidence of a serious Commonwealth offence.”

He said there was a significant decrease in the number of issues identified per inspection at the ACIC and AFP in 2021-22, in comparison with 2020-21.

Mr Anderson said both Agencies had taken action on previous recommendations and suggestions for systemic improvements to their governance of the use of controlled operations.

“Importantly, this report covers my Office’s first formal inspection of the AFP’s use of delayed notification search warrants,” the Ombudsman said.

“I am heartened that we did not identify any major instances of non-compliance by the AFP in using these warrants for the first time,” he said.

“We found room for improvement in the AFP’s keeping of records to document its compliance with legal requirements.”

Mr Anderson said delayed notification search warrants allowed the AFP to conduct a covert search of a premises to investigate certain terrorism offences – they’re ‘delayed’ because the occupier of the premises does not know the search is happening at the time and is only notified later.

Commenting on Agency health checks, he said “the Agencies have done well to ensure their draft policies, procedures and guidance will support the proper use of these new powers”.

“We look forward to conducting our first records inspections on the use of account takeover warrants in 2022-23.”

Mr Anderson made 13 suggestions and 13 better practice suggestions to the AFP and ACIC.

The Ombudsman’s 30-page 2021-22 Report to the Attorney-General on agencies’ compliance with the Crimes Act 1914: Controlled Operations Delayed Notification Search Warrants Account Takeover Warrants can be accessed at this PS News link.

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