By Ugur Nedim and Sonia Hickey
Adrian Moore was a 28-year veteran of the WA police force. He was even nominated for the award of ‘Western Australian Police Officer of the Year” in 2011.
But in a dramatic fall from grace, the former senior constable has been sentenced to six months in prison after pleading to 180 charges of illegally accessing the state’s police database.
Mr Moore pleaded guilty in Perth Magistrates Court to accessing the personal information of 92 women he had met, or interacted with, on dating websites such as Tinder and Plenty of Fish.
Moore was found to have accessed the details of one-third of the women several times, and one of the women 13 times over a six-year period.
While his criminal defence lawyers submitted their client’s actions arose out of “curiosity”, Magistrate Mark Andrews found that illegally accessing personal details over a 12 year period amounted to a ‘gross and sustained breach of trust”. His Honour determined that a prison sentence was necessary in order to send a strong message that in this digital age, custodians of protected data simply “cannot access information for their own benefit”.
The Magistrate also imposed a $2,000 after the defendant pleaded guilty to possessing images of bestiality.
The officer’s offending came to light when a victim complained last year that he had information that could not be obtained other than through the secure database.
Moore is now at liberty to appeal against the severity of his sentence.
Improper use of police database
As recently reported, former Queensland police officer Neil Punchard has been charged with multiple computer hacking offences after unlawfully accessing that state’s police database to provide his ‘mate’ with the new address of his former partner.
That ‘mate’ had, among other things, threatened to kill his ex, strap bombs to her children and blow them up as “martyrs”.
An internal police investigation found that senior constable Punchard illegally accessed the QPrime police database and provided the woman’s new address to his mate. After he did so, he sent a text message to that friend saying “Just tell her you know where she lives and leave it at that. Lol. She will flip.”
The victim is now fighting the Queensland Police Service for compensation. That case is currently before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT), which will need to determine whether the QPS can be held responsible for the actions of one of its officers. This is after the tribunal found the officer cannot be held personally responsible for such privacy breaches.
The barrister for the QPS is arguing that the service cannot be responsible for the rogue actions of an officer. The woman is representing herself, as she cannot afford legal representation.
Mr Punchard’s criminal proceedings are currently going through Brisbane Magistrate’s Court.
The Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has also re-opened investigations into the officer after allegations emerged during the QCAT hearing that a car belonging to his abusive mate had been transferred into the officer’s name at around the same time he accessed and provided him with his ex’s details.
Police originally tried to suppress this information, submitting that it had nothing to do with the victim’s compensation case. However, the CCC has acknowledged that it raises the possibility of corruption.
Part 6 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) prohibits a range of conduct relating to the unauthorised use of, and access to, electronic and digital data.
Section 308C, which falls within that Part, sets down a maximum penalty equivalent to the intended offence where a person causes an unauthorised computer function with the intention of committing a serious indictable offence, which is a crime that carries a maximum penalty of at least five years in prison.
Section 308D prescribes a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment where a person knowingly or recklessly causes the modification of computer data to impair access to or the reliability, security or operation of the data.
Section 308E imposes a maximum prison sentence of ten years for knowingly or recklessly causing any unauthorised impairment of an electronic communication to or from a computer.
Section 308F provides that a person who possesses or controls data with the intention of committing or facilitating a serious computer offence is liable to a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
A serious computer offence is defined by section 308 as an offence against section 308C, 308D or 308E or a similar offence in another jurisdiction.
Section 308G sets a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment for producing, supplying or obtaining data with the intention of committing or facilitating a serious computer offence.
Section 308H is a ‘summary offence’, which means it must be dealt with in the local court, rather committed to a higher court such as the district court.
The section prescribes a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment for any person who:
- causes unauthorised access to, or modification of, restricted data held in a computer, and
- knows that the access or modification is unauthorised, and
- intends to cause that access or modification.
Restricted data is defined as that which is held in a computer, being data to which access is restricted by an access control system associated with a function of the computer.
Section 308I is also a summary offence and sets down a maximum penalty of two years in prison for:
- causing unauthorised impairment of the reliability, security or operation of any data held on a computer disk, credit card or other device used to store data by electronic means,
- while knowing the impairment is unauthorised, and
- with the intention of causing that impairment.
Commonwealth computer offences
In addition to state and territory laws, the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) imposes prohibitions which apply across Australia.
Section 477.1 sets down a maximum penalty equivalent to the intended offence where a person causes:
- any unauthorised access to, or modification of impairment of, data held in a computer;
- knows the access, modification or impairment is unauthorised; and
- intends to commit, or facilitate the commission of, an offence against a law of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory which attracts a maximum penalty of at least five years by the access, modification or impairment.
Section 477.2 prescribes a ten year maximum penalty for a person who:
- causes unauthorised modification of data held in a computer; and
- knows the modification is unauthorised; and
- is reckless as to whether the modification impairs or will impair access to that or any other data held in any computer, or the reliability, security or operation, of any such data.
Section 477.3 imposes the same ten year maximum penalty for a person who:
- causes any unauthorised impairment of electronic communication to or from a computer; and
- knows that the impairment is unauthorised.
Section 478.1 of the Act prescribes a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment for a person who causes unauthorised access to, or modification of, restricted data; in circumstances where he or she:
- intends to cause the access or modification; and
- knows that the access or modification is unauthorised.
Restricted data is defined as that which is held in a computer, and to which access is restricted by an access control system associated with a function of the computer.
Section 478.2 imposes the same maximum penalty for a person who the causes any unauthorised impairment of the reliability, security or operation of data held on a computer disk, credit card or other storage device where the person:
- intends to cause the impairment; and
- knows that the impairment is unauthorised.
Charged with a computer offence?
If you are suspected of unauthorised use of computer data, call Sydney Criminal Lawyers® anytime on (02) 9261 8881 to arrange a conference at one of our many office locations across Sydney, in Newcastle or Wollongong, or by telephone or Skype.
If you are going to court, we offer a free first consultation with an experienced criminal defence lawyer who will be able to advise you of your options and the best way forward.