Attorney-General's 'grave concerns' over national security breach (letter)by Hon. Philip Ruddock MPNews Weekly
, March 18, 2006
As a former senior intelligence officer, John Miller knows the value of confidential information provided to agencies by members of the public and the critical need to protect the sources of such information ("The sum of all our fears - betrayal", News Weekly
, March 4, 2006).
Clearly, information provided by the public is integral to the ability of our agencies to identify and thwart those who intend to carry out some harm to the Australian community. The National Security Hotline alone has received more than 72,000 calls since it was established - a high proportion of which have provided information of value to authorities.
Mr Miller's article highlighted my grave concerns that search warrants drafted by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) contained information that would easily enable a person to identify the names and details of potential witnesses and informants.Immediate investigation
I asked for an immediate investigation into this particular matter when it happened in November, and I have considered options to ensure future search warrants do not allow it to be repeated.
The Crimes Act 1914
(the CA) stipulates that search warrants must include certain information, including the offence to which the warrant relates, the description of the premises, and the kinds of evidential material to be searched for.
In accordance with the requirements of the Act, the occupiers of the premises searched pursuant to the warrant (the occupiers) have a right to see a copy of the search warrant. During the execution of the search warrant, a copy of the warrant is given to the occupiers in accordance with established search warrant requirements procedures.
In this particular case, I am advised the warrant was drafted by the AFP in accordance with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) Search Warrants Manual, and a copy of the warrant was provided to the occupier.
I am informed no names of informants or potential witness were listed on these warrants. Also, there was nothing in the warrant to suggest the company owners, the managers or the employees of the companies (or anyone else for that matter) had provided information to authorities.
The AFP and CDPP will, in future, endeavour to draft warrants so that they do not include any information that could reasonably lead to the identification of an informant. The warrants will, nevertheless, still need to be specific enough to avoid being found invalid because of insufficient detail.
I have also asked for additional information to be provided in the Search Warrants Manual, including the example of this case, to give clearer guidance to police in future and for the benefit of training purposes.
Mr Miller seems to be under the misapprehension that I am responsible for "pursuing [past] cases involving breaches of national security". This is surely the role of the Commonwealth DPP, an independent statutory body, based on the brief of evidence available to it.
As the first legal officer of the Commonwealth, my role is to ensure the legislative framework remains robust and effective and capable of meeting the challenges of the security environment in which our agencies are operating.
At this stage, I do not believe a legislative change is needed in relation to the issue of search warrants. It should be possible to prevent this problem from recurring by being careful not to include too specific details in the warrant. For example, in this case, the warrant could limit the information to the type of chemical purchased instead of the actual names or details of the companies.
I regret very much the fact the identities of two people who had assisted a counter-terrorism investigation were not fully protected. I will continue to maintain a watching brief that these steps will ensure the anonymity of informants and potential witnesses.The Hon. Philip Ruddock MP,
Canberra, ACT 2600