computer data
A man types on a computer keyboard in front of the displayed cyber code in this illustration picture taken on March 1, 2017. Reuters/Kacper Pempel

Australian Federal Police (AFP) chief commissioner Andrew Colvin has revealed during a press conference that an AFP member has breached a Telecommunications Act. The AFP member was conducting an internal investigation related to a journalist case.

According to Colvin, the investigator has requested the journalist's call charge records without obtaining a Journalist Information Warrant. He said that the investigator has also requested the journalist's telecommunications data. Colvin said the calls' content was accessed but not the records of the call.

The incident was reported to the Commonwealth Ombudsman and an internal investigation was still ongoing. Colvin said that once the breach was confirmed, the federal police would immediately destroy all the materials that they retrieved due to the breach. He said that the incident should not have occurred and it should be considered as human error. The chief commissioner said that AFP took the metadata breach very seriously.

Colvin said that there was no bad intent, malice or ill will by the officer who was involved in the breach. However, there was no disciplinary action taken against the investigator. He said that the metadata breach has prompted the agency to review its internal practices and procedures.

Commissioner Calvin said that the public should have full confidence in metadata laws. He noted that the agency has raised levels of internal authorisation required for access to phone records data. He said that they were limiting the number of authorised officers who could approve access on the metadata. He said that the metadata was a very common tool used by the federal police in their investigations.

Legal experts, along with media experts, have raised their concerns about the metadata retention laws. The law should make the security agencies to access the communication records of journalists. However, Guardian Australia journalist Paul Farrell said that the current incident of metadata breach was shocking. He said that the accountability measures were in complete farce and the law has been breached by AFP without any kind of disciplinary process.

Chief executive of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance Paul Murphy described that the metadata regime was an attack on press freedom. He said the system has failed in relation to the granting of the Journalism Information Warrant.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said that any metadata breach should have a proper investigation as it should be considered as a serious issue. SA senator Nick Xenophon said that he would question Colvin at the Senate estimates about the metadata breach. Attorney-General George Brandis has not yet commented on the issue.

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