ASIC set to obtain new phone-tap powers

Treasury is consulting on new measures that will give ASIC access to information obtained from telecommunications interception warrants.

The government has released a Treasury consultation paper titled ASIC's Access to Telecommunications Intercept Material, which is open for public submissions until 17 August.

The proposals are a product of the ASIC Enforcement Review Taskforce, which has also led to Treasury papers looking to beef up ASIC's search warrant powers, licensing powers and oversight of industry codes of conduct.

The new paper on 'telecommunications intercepts' proposes that ASIC be given access to information derived from intercepts conducted by other government agencies under warrant.

Currently, such information can only be provided to ASIC as part of investigations by external agencies.

In Australia, the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, also known as the TIA Act, prohibits the interception of and unlawful access to communications without the knowledge of the parties to the communication.

ASIC is a criminal law enforcement agency under the TIA Act and can presently access telecommunications data under specified circumstances, but the corporate regulator is not an interception agency or a 'recipient agency'.

Treasury has proposed that ASIC should be able to receive material received from telecommunication intercept warrants (TI material) to investigate and prosecute serious offences. 

"ASIC should be able to receive lawfully intercepted TI material for the purposes of investigating and prosecuting offences, within its jurisdiction, that are defined under the TIA Act as ‘serious offences’, including the serious Corporations Act offences," said the paper.

The paper points to examples of attempted ASIC prosecutions of insider trading that have been undermined due to ASIC's difficultly in accessing telecommunication intercept material.

"The current position is... somewhat of a paradox: ASIC can access information that is obtained with greater invasion of privacy and less discrimination, but cannot access intercepted information," said Treasury.

[Related: First ASIC invoices to be issued in January]

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Tim Stewart

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