NSW Police Caught Red Handed, Illegally Hacking Into Facebook
What is not known is how many more accounts of NSW residents police are hacking into without a warrant, or which software is being used to illegally collect data from private social media accounts.
In a case before a NSW Court, Rhys Liam Halvey, found himself arrested and charged with three counts of using a carriage service to offend police and a further three counts of publishing an indecent article following a four-month investigation by NSW Police Senior Constable Daniel Moss who is now himself under investigation.
The evidence was obtained without a warrant by police officers who obviously thought that the process of law did not apply to them.
Under current NSW and Federal laws, except in the case of terrorism related matters, Police are required to seek a warrant when they believe a crime has been committed.
In this case no warrant was sought with a magistrate describing their actions as a reprehensible and a “criminal offence”.
And to make matters worse the actions of the police officers were fully supported in court by one of the highest ranking police officers in the state.
Rhys Liam Halvey’s offence was based on the fact that NSW Police officers were offended that his Private Facebook posts included a raunchy image of the American pop star Miley Cyrus superimposed on a photograph of a serving officer.
Fairfax Media reported that on November 29, 2013, NSW Police Senior Constable Daniel Moss began spying on a closed Facebook page belonging to a “Rhys Brown” using someone else’s user name and password.
The prying continued until March 31 last year, when several “derogatory” posts appeared.
They featured a NSW Police infringement notice together with photographs of several serving officers, taken in a Sydney street setting.
One image carried a large sum of cash and words to the effect of: “Here’s my $25,000 for your $101 fine.” Another image depicted Miley Cyrus “twerking” in front of an officer.
After Sydney magistrate Roger Brown warned that a “criminal offence” had been committed by the “unauthorised access”, a senior member of the NSW Police hierarchy attempted to intervene with two sworn affidavits “supportive” of the actions.
Desperate to save their reputation and to prevent further embarrassing information getting out into the public realms NSW Police moved to withdraw all six charges with the case now being dismissed.
Magistrate Brown described the conduct as “reprehensible” and the charges as “trivial.”
Mr Halvey’s barrister, Andrea Turner, in a formal complaint to the Police Integrity Commission, which has now been referred back to the police, by the NSW Ombudsman raised the serious question of “Exactly how widespread is this snooping?”
“There is no difference to the police trespassing on a Facebook page for four months and my steaming open my neighbour’s mail in the hope of one day finding something, anything, to report to police.” Turner said.
NSW Council of Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks said public confidence in the police was being “undermined” by an inability to acknowledge the occasions when “it does the wrong thing.”
“How deep in police culture is this willingness to break the law?” he asked.
“Even after they have been caught out, it would appear no adverse consequences are going to be suffered by those responsible because the illegal actions are supported by police at the most senior level.”
Though he denied being Rhys Brown and the owner of the posts, Mr Halvey was charged. During a hearing in April, Magistrate Brown said to Constable Moss: “You use the term ‘monitored’ the Facebook account of Rhys Brown … you went into that account frequently?”
“Yes, I did” replied the officer.
“So … you didn’t obtain a Supreme Court warrant … you didn’t obtain any judicial authorisation to invade the privacy of Rhys Brown’s Facebook, did you?”
It was under cross examination that he admitted to using someone else’s user name and password.
When the police prosecutor sought an adjournment so the Crown could argue the “public immunity aspect” of certain police “methodology” used to “access data”, Mr Brown said: “Police methodology doesn’t permit the police to commit crimes, it’s as simple as that.”
Several weeks later, a senior police official stepped in with one “confidential” affidavit and another open in which he relayed previous support for the investigation.
He also requested the officer be excused from further cross examination “about how certain Facebook posts were obtained”, adding it would be “injurious” to the public interest if “those questions were to be answered”.
Mr Brown rejected the immunity application.
In September, the case was withdrawn and dismissed with $14,429 in costs ordered against the police. A NSW Police spokesman said on Friday an investigation was “currently running.”