Of officers charged, one accessed ex-girlfriends’ data and one gave woman’s details to abusive partner
Queensland police computer hacking: no action taken in nearly 90% of cases
Queensland police took no disciplinary action against 52 of the 59 officers investigated internally for computer hacking during a 13-month period, amid concern police do not have adequate measures in place to prevent the wrongful access of private personal data.
Four police officers were charged with computer hacking offences last year under what was considered a crackdown on improper access of the Queensland Police Records and Information Management Exchange (QPrime) database, which stores personal information.
In one case, an officer was charged for looking up personal details of his former girlfriends and the former Australian netball captain, Laura Geitz, “out of curiosity”.
But concerns have been raised that comparatively more serious cases have not led to similar charges or proper disciplinary action.
Renee Eaves, a social justice advocate, found out through a right to information request in 2016 that her personal information had been accessed 1,400 times since 2008. She does not have a criminal record.
A police officer sent the address of a Gold Coast woman to her abusive former partner and advised the man to “just tell her you know where she lives and leave it at that”.
The Brisbane Times reported this week that the woman at the centre of that case recorded a conversation with police commissioner Ian Stewart, in which Stewart said there “was insufficient evidence to place it before a criminal court. We then took that down our discipline process”.
Michael Cope, the president of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, said police accessing personal information was a systemic problem.
“The public has lost confidence in this process. We’re going back to the bad old days, pre-Fitzgerald.”
Information released under Queensland right to information laws shows police conducted 59 investigations into improper access of the QPrime database between August 2016 and September 2017.
In 52 cases, no further action was taken. These included some allegations deemed vexatious, and allegations where police were unable to obtain sufficient evidence. Specific details of the allegations were redacted.
Two officers were dealt with by “chastisement”. Two had their salaries reduced. In three cases, allegations were found to be true, but the files gave no details of what action was taken.
Cope said police security measures were clearly not good enough. He said most modern organisations that retained sensitive data had sophisticated tracking systems that would be able to closely monitor who was accessing data, and for what purpose.
“The security system in being able to track people who get in this system is not as good as in other institutions,” Cope said.
“If complaints are being dismissed for lack of evidence ... it means their control over data access is just not up to modern standards.
“It may well be the tip of the iceberg. There may be people whose information has been used and abused and have no idea about it. That would suggest there’s something wrong with their internal data controls.”
The Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission has an oversight role of internal police investigations. Cope said the CCC needed to become more directly involved.
“This needs to be taken more seriously and it’s time for the CCC to get involved and conduct a review of these investigations and perhaps exercise their power to take on some of these and do them themselves.”
Queensland police and the Queensland police union were both asked by Guardian Australia to comment.
The police union president, Ian Leavers, has previously said police were afraid to properly investigate cases due to fear of being accused of improper use of the QPrime database. The union last year published guidelines for officers and suggested they document their access.