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ATO and AUSTRAC may gain new phone-tapping powers

  • December 09 2021
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ATO and AUSTRAC may gain new phone-tapping powers

By Fergus Halliday
December 09 2021

A proposed update to electronic surveillance legislation could see the ATO armed with new powers that would allow the agency to bug phones and intercept online communications.

ATO and AUSTRAC

ATO and AUSTRAC may gain new phone-tapping powers

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  • December 09 2021
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A proposed update to electronic surveillance legislation could see the ATO armed with new powers that would allow the agency to bug phones and intercept online communications.

ATO and AUSTRAC

Reforms to Australia’s telecommunication intercept laws could see Australia's tax man granted the ability to listen in on the conversations of taxpayers.

Speaking on the release of a public discussion paper outlining the government’s plans to update domestic surveillance laws, federal Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews was adamant that the measures would strike the right balance.

“The government will balance the need for agencies to have the powers they require to protect Australians, while ensuring these powers are subject to robust controls, safeguards and oversight,” she said.

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A key reform proposed by the discussion paper includes the broadening out of electronic surveillance mechanisms to new government bodies with a “clear and compelling” case for accessing them.

The list of potential beneficiaries of this includes both the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

For the former, the government argued that the power to intercept telecommunications data could play a valuable role in AUSTRAC’s mission to deter money laundering and financing of terrorism.

In contrast, the argument for the ATO having access to the data is more defensively oriented.

“With respect to the ATO, access to telecommunications data would support or, in some cases, potentially replace expensive, resource-intensive and intrusive physical surveillance operations,” the discussion paper said.

“ATO experience demonstrates that telecommunications data would also be a critical tool in excluding non-involved individuals from lines of inquiry, or in establishing a relationship between an original person of interest being investigated (for example, for tax fraud) and a larger group of individuals committing serious criminal offences (such as large-scale fraud against the Commonwealth).”

Ms Andrews said that the proposed reforms will better protect individuals’ information and data, and ensure law enforcement and security agencies have the powers they need.

“Australians can trust the Morrison government to deliver legislation that is clear, fit-for-purpose, proportionate and enduring, and that will keep Australians safe and protect our way of life,” she said.

ATO and AUSTRAC may gain new phone-tapping powers
ATO and AUSTRAC
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About the author

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Fergus is a journalist for Momentum Media's nestegg and Smart Property Investment. He likes to write about money, markets, how innovation is changing the financial landscape and how younger consumers can achieve their goals in unpredictable times. 

About the author

author image
Fergus Halliday

Fergus is a journalist for Momentum Media's nestegg and Smart Property Investment. He likes to write about money, markets, how innovation is changing the financial landscape and how younger consumers can achieve their goals in unpredictable times. 

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