The NSW government has appointed the state’s first Surveillance Devices Commissioner to ensure law enforcement agencies don’t engage in improper or illegal phone bugging.
Lawyer Don McKenzie, who is currently working with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to develop corruption investigations in Myanmar, will be responsible for ensuring covert surveillance tools are appropriately used, NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman says.
As commissioner, Mr McKenze will be notified when a warrant applications is made to use a bugging device and will have the right to argue against them being granted in front of a judge.
He’ll also deliver annual reports including figures on how often warrants are sought and granted.
Appropriate targeting of bugging devices
Legislation to establish the commissioner was introduced last year to ensure the use of surveillance devices, including listening devices and secret phone intercepts, was properly targeted and to restore public confidence in the way they were being used by police.
It came in response to the NSW Ombudsman’s mammoth 2016 report on the four-year Operation Prospect investigation into allegations about the conduct of the NSW Police Force, the NSW Crime Commission and the Police Integrity Commission during internal investigations between 1999 and 2002.
Operation Prospect, the largest ever investigation by an Australian Ombudsman, investigated allegations of improper surveillance and made adverse findings against senior police including former Deputy Police Commissioner Cath Burn, who at the time rejected the findings.
Operation Prospect was the largest ever investigation by an ombudsman in Australia.
Mr McKenzie was Director of Legal Services at the NSW Crime Commission during the final stages of Operation Prospect and provided advice on how to respond to the Ombudsman’s recommendations.
Mr Speakman said stronger internal procedures and training have been introduced since Operation Prospect, but Mr McKenzie would provide additional safeguards.
“Mr McKenzie will provide extra scrutiny of surveillance device applications, which are vital in gathering evidence to secure prosecutions against organised crime figures,” Mr Speakman said.
Mr McKenzie has also held senior roles at the NSW ICAC and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. He has held anti-corruption workshops for the UN in Botswana and Kenya.
Mr McKenzie begins his new role on 4 November.
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