The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) is a Commonwealth body tasked with fighting organised crime in Australia. The body has recently proposed the creation of a National Criminal Database to give law enforcement agencies across Australia greater access to intelligence about individuals and organised crime.
The ACCC intends to consolidate over 1,000 databases into one, believing that this is crucial for combating terrorism, organised crime, cyber crime and drug trafficking and supply.
It says that Australian law enforcement agencies are currently limited in the information available to them, pointing out that data from interstate and non-law enforcement agencies is currently difficult or impossible to access in a timely manner, hampering efforts to fight crime.
Criminolist Guy Hall from Murdoch University has expressed concerns about the cost of the venture, stating:
“That is just an incredibly expensive job. So while it might be overdue, it is a very difficult and expensive job. Good luck to them.”
The foundations for the database are expected to take two years to build, with the entire project taking significantly longer to become fully functional. The cost to the taxpayer is expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars at least.
Apart from the cost, there are concerns that the database will facilitate instant access to previously inaccessible private information to tens of thousands of police and law enforcement employees, creating the potential for misuse.
Prosecutions for Interstate Crimes
Law enforcement agencies are already able to prosecute those who have moved interstate after allegedly committing crimes; and to apprehend people for outstanding warrants that were issued in other part of Australia.
For instance, section 24 of the Service and Execution of Process Act 1992 enables police to commence proceedings against a person anywhere in Australia.
But proponents of the new database argue that those powers mean very little without timely access to information about people and crimes in the first place. They believe the database will assist police in a range of ways – including to the locate suspects, coordinate evidence gathering, and instantly ascertain relevant information about a person upon contact.
ACC Chief Executive Chris Dawson believes that a national database will provide:
“… greater opportunities to exploit the datasets together so that when a police officer is either stopping a person, speaking to an individual, receiving information, executing a search warrant … they will know with the best possible foreknowledge of who they are dealing with and who they are connected to.”
The Australian Crime Commission
The ACC was established by the Australian Crime Commission Act 2002 (Cth) (‘the Act’) in accordance with the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime.
The body’s overriding objective is to combat organised criminal activity including drug trafficking, money laundering, cyber crime and financial sector crimes.
Section 7A of the Act states that the body’s main functions include:
- Collecting and analysing criminal intelligence,
- Setting national criminal intelligence priorities,
- Providing and maintaining criminal intelligence systems,
- Investigating federally relevant criminal activity, and
- Undertaking taskforces.
Creating an intelligence database therefore falls within its stated functions.
Response to Privacy Concerns
While acknowledging concerns about privacy and misuse of information, the ACC promises that unauthorised people will not be able to access sensitive areas of the database. It adds that law enforcement officers will only be able to access data that is currently available to them, although the speed of access will be greatly improved.
Mr Dawson explains that:
“A flag should come up and go danger, there is a red flag here.
You may not necessarily be authorised to know exactly why [there is a red flag] … but you’ll know you need to contact the appropriate agency.”
It will be interesting to take a closer look at the details of the proposal if and when they become available.