Peter Dutton says ‘lives are at risk’ if telcos delay providing police with information

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Remy Varga
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Pressure mounts on Anthony Albanese over Samantha Murphy's telco furore, with Peter Dutton (pictured) saying lives are at risk if telcos don’t respond in a timely manner to police investigations.
Pressure mounts on Anthony Albanese over Samantha Murphy's telco furore, with Peter Dutton (pictured) saying lives are at risk if telcos don’t respond in a timely manner to police investigations. Credit: The Nightly

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton says telecommunication companies have a moral obligation to help policing agencies and that telcos are potentially putting lives at risk if they fail to provide information quickly in active investigations.

Mr Dutton, a former police officer in Queensland, said on Wednesday that any potential delays in providing cellular phone records to the investigation into the case of missing Victorian mother Samantha Murphy needed to be explained.

“I think lives are at risk here when telecommunications companies don’t provide a timely response to the police requests,” he said.

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“In relation to this tragic case in Victoria, if there was a delay from the telecommunications companies we need to understand why because that information really needs to be provided in a timely way so that evidence can’t be disposed of or the next crime can be prevented so the investigation is not impeded.”

The issues of how much telcos charge policing agencies and how long it takes them to hand over information have emerged after it took Victorian Police about a month to search the last known area in the disappearance of Murphy, who went missing after going for a run on February 4.

The Nightly previously revealed questions were raised over how long it took for the data related to Ms Murphy to be handed over to investigators as well as the cost incurred in retrieving the cell phone records.

Veteran former Victorian homicide detective Charlie Bezzina told The Nightly police faced financial, legal and technical barriers in their attempts to access phone data in searches such as that for Ms Murphy.

“Anything from carriers that we require in terms of information comes at a cost,” he said.

“It’s frustrating because you then have to limit the amount of information you might be seeking because of the cost, which can reach thousands of dollars.”

Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton
Peter Dutton says he wants to make the nation competitive again and to restore economic confidence. Credit: Bianca De Marchi/AAP

On Wednesday Mr Dutton said it was critical to ensure telecommunication companies were engaging properly with investigative authorities.

“If there is a reluctance or a problem that’s obvious then it should be sorted out because telecommunications companies have a moral obligation to act in a timely way and in a responsible way, the way in which their commercial operations with police agencies,” he said.

“I think it’s a matter of common sense and I’d say that CEOS in private discussions are very willing to engage with authorities, we need to make sure thats being rolled out in practice as well.”

The Telecommunications Act said providers must “neither profit from, nor bear the costs of, providing such assistance” to policing authorities.

One industry source said retrieving the information costs time and money and the telecommunications companies were simply recouping the cost of performing the searches, which involved diverting staff and resources.

In 2022, WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch revealed telco fees had soared from $600,000 in the 2018-19 financial year to $1 million over a period of 12 months.

ACT Policing has paid telecommunication companies $388,444 over the past three financial years to perform record searches, including $126,288 in 22-23, $120,145 in 21/22 and $142,071 in 20/21.

Tasmania Police spent $88,700 on requests for data from telecommunications companies in the 2022-23 financial year.

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