Qld Police given power to access data in the cloud

Queensland police have been given new power, allowing them access to previously protected cloud-based data.

Queensland Parliament passed the Police Powers and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 last Thursday in a bid to clear up uncertainty around the clause in the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 regarding the searching of electronic devices.

The amendments made will subject data on password protected applications such as Facebook, Instagram, Gmail or Outlook to the same access powers as physical storage devices.

The bill states: “While the storage of incriminating information on traditional storage mediums, such as: computers; laptops; hard disk drives; and memory sticks is captured under existing laws, the use of cloud services is not clearly outlined within existing legislative definitions.”

Queensland is now in line with Victoria, WA and NSW in that “any information accessible on or via a storage device” can now be obtained lawfully with a warrant.

Queensland Law Enforcement agencies have been lobbying for this change for years, arguing that it is necessary for police to meet the new challenges that social media has presented.

Police Minister Mark Ryan said the legislation would not affect the general public, but it would give police the tools they needed to investigate illegal activities such as child and sexual abuse, that occurred online.

“Unless you are a bikie, a paedophile, a terrorist or a serious criminal these laws will not affect you,” he said.

“This legislation strengthens laws applying to new technologies criminals are attempting to use to evade prosecution.”

“It specifically targets child sex offenders and other criminal elements who use social media accounts to conceal evidence of their crimes.”

The legislation has been largely supported, though it is not entirely without its critics. The Queensland Law Society has come out in opposition to these changes stating “the approach adopted by the bill is unbalanced”.

“The Bill grants police officers extraordinarily broad powers to pry into the private affairs of people who are not suspected of any offence and into matters beyond the scope of any suspected offence under investigation.,” a spokesperson for the Society said.

“Such broad power, unfettered by any checks and balances, has enormous implications for privacy and commercial confidentiality in the modern world.

“There is also the potential for abuse of this broad power.”

Professor of Internet Law at CQUniversity Dr Angelo Capuano said while citizens should be wary of government intervention into private spaces, in this instance the public need not be overly concerned.

“Existing criteria still needs to be satisfied to access information,” he said.

“For example, police would need to apply to a magistrate or a judge of the Supreme Court for an order requiring a person to provide ‘access information’ to gain access to information on or through an electronic device.”