AFP blocks FoI access to social media info



blog Some five months ago, Pirate Party Australia founder Rodney Serkowski made what many would consider to be a fairly standard Freedom of Information request with the Australian Federal Police. Given the ongoing dialogue between the police, politicians and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook with respect to using data from social media sites for use in investigations, Serkowski thought it might not be too much of a bit deal to ask the AFP just how it was using that data. He sought, under Freedom of Information laws (you can read the full details on his blog here):

(a) Documents, reports, memoranda or policy statements not already made publicly available, regarding the use of social media or social networking sites in formal police inquiries, surveillance and investigation.

(b) Documents not already made publicly available detailing any formal or informal co-operative arrangements between law enforcement agencies and any such social networking sites, detailing prices and/or procedures for such agencies seeking access to information or details regarding subscribers to those services.

However, the AFP’s FoI team saw fit to reject Serkowski’s request. The whole request. Reject it wholesale. Even though there were some 23 documents in total found within the AFP’s systems which related to the matter, the AFP has chosen to release none of those documents. Serkowski’s reaction:

“It is without a doubt that there is a public interest and democratic imperative that such information be released. Internet users have a right to understand and be made aware of what information is being collected, under what circumstances and under what arrangements that information is being collected or relayed, and who has access to that information.”

“There are extremely novel ways in which policing organisations are assessing the large amounts of data they are retrieving from social media organisations, for instance through the mapping of associations which have huge implications for the privacy of citizens and users, and we should be able to understand how enforcement organisations are using that data, and for how long it is stored.”

However, according to the AFP, at least, Australians do not have that right. Wow. It seems like the privacy violations and access to data by law enforcement agencies just keeps on coming. And accountability and transparency, in this environment, are hard things to come by.


  1. “accountability and transparency, in this environment, are hard things to come by.”

    Yeah, way too hard…politicians and departments seem to have way too much “wiggle” room on FOI’s :-/

  2. The war against terror has made government authorities see any and all Australians as potential enemy combatants. This is what allows them to take the breathtakingly arrogant stance that the Australian people cannot and should not be informed of what the government does in their name.

    This is how the terrorists win. Way to go AFP…

  3. FoIs are like anything the Public Service doesn’t like, they work out a way to totally subvert both the spirit and the meaning of the original legislation to protect themselves. As they don’t really answer to anyone, politicians are very hands off with the actual running of government, they can do whatever they please.

    Public servants are bizarrely scared of losing their jobs for making a mistake, which is especially strange seeing how the most culpable usually get promoted for enormous project cock-ups and cost over-runs.
    The AFP are just Public Servants, same internal culture as Health or Immigration or any of the other ‘models of Kafkaesque inefficiency.

    This is just arse covering.

  4. Don’t worry, the AFP is the most incompetent organization in our country.

  5. If they aren’t doing anything wrong, they have nothing to hide.
    Isn’t that what Governments say.

Comments are closed.