The documents don’t name which journalists were targeted but Nine Newspapers reports the AFP sought two “journalist information warrants” in the same year they were asked to investigate the leaking of classified information to two ABC journalists and senior News Corp reporter Annika Smethurst.
Ms Smethurst’s Canberra home and the ABC’s Sydney headquarters were raided by the AFP in June, prompting the government to launch a review of how police and intelligence agency powers impact press freedom.
Nine reports police used the two warrants in 2017-17 to access reporters’ metadata 58 times.
Metadata is data which gives information about another set of data.
Instead of the content of a phone call, it could include the number dialled, where the call was made from and the duration of the call.
The extent of the AFP’s use of warrants to access journalists’ metadata has been revealed in the federal police’s submission to a review which is currently underway into 2015 laws which force telcos to keep customers’ phone and internet records for two years.
The AFP are arguing that the laws should remain unchanged.
“Access to telecommunications data is a critical investigative and intelligence gathering tool. It is used in almost all investigations into criminal activity, serious civil infringements and of intelligence matters,” an AFP spokeswoman told Nine.
“Given its investigative value, it is important that Australia’s law enforcement and security agencies continue to have reliable access to telecommunications data.”
Australia’s major media organisations, including News Corp, Nine, the ABC, AAP and SBS, are urging the government to scrap the journalist information warrants.
It comes as Labor yesterday demanded an explanation from the Coalition after reports emerged that the AFP had demanded Qantas hand over a journalist’s private travel information.
The AFP asked for senior ABC reporter Dan Oakes’ travel details as part of an investigation into a leak which exposed allegations of misconduct by Australian troops in Afghanistan.
The development appears to suggest police could be building a case against the reporter, in addition to the whistleblower, David McBride, who has already admitted leaking the information.
It also potentially contradicts an assurance made by Attorney-General Christian Porter last month, that there was “absolutely no suggestion” any journalist was the subject of the AFP investigation.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Mr Porter should detail the circumstances around the police’s demands.
“He says that journalists aren’t the target of these investigations, but the fact that there was a demand by the AFP for records of flights from a journalist from Qantas shows that’s not the case,” Mr Albanese said in Brisbane yesterday.
A spokesman for Mr Porter stressed it was Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, rather than the attorney-general, who had oversight of the AFP.
A spokeswoman for Mr Dutton said he would not comment on ongoing matters. This sentiment was also espoused by the AFP.
“As this investigation remains ongoing, it is not appropriate to comment,” a spokesman for the agency said.