New Electronic Recording Laws Could Impact Family Law Disputes

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electronic-surveillance-devicesPARENTS involved in family law disputes would be prevented from recording their confrontations if new South Australian surveillance laws are passed.

South Australian Attorney-General John Rau introduced the Surveillance Devices Bill to Parliament last month, intended to update police surveillance powers.

However, MPs, lawyers and security groups have voiced concerns the legislation – which covers audio and visual recording and data tracking – is worded too broadly and would restrict the rights of ordinary citizens.

The state branch of the National Security Association of Australia has warned parents in family law disputes who record confrontations involving verbal or physical abuse could be breaking the law in future if the proposed legislation is passed.

Association committee member Charles MacDonald said it was “wise for one party to record what was said … so if it becomes an issue in court then they’ve got something to back them up”.

Under existing law, a person can record a conversation with another without their consent if they are involved in the conversation and it is in the public interest, in the course of their work or for the protection of their legal rights.

The proposed laws would require the person making the recording to already be a victim of a crime committed by the person they are recording, as well as one of the above criteria.

Mr Rau said the laws were meant to “stop ordinary citizens bugging” each other and would not apply to recordings of public forums such as speeches, council meetings or Parliament. But, they would apply to private discussions where someone was recorded without consent.

Independent MLC Ann Bressington said that the laws would also prevent people from recording meetings as insurance “to counter false allegations”.

The association says many of the professionals it represents regularly record dealings with people who could become aggressive, but would be prevented from doing so.

And media organisations and  lawyers fear the changes would restrict journalists’ ability to  record and expose information in the public interest.

Opposition justice spokesman Stephen Wade said the laws would leave vulnerable “people who are currently using recorded conversations to protect themselves”.


Covert recordings that could be illegal under proposed new laws:

* A mother and her parents being accused of threatening Families SA social workers recorded a meeting to show it was the social workers who were being threatening.

* A person who has a disagreement with an insurer records negotiations with an insurance officer.

* A private investigator confronts a blackmailer on behalf of a victim and records the blackmailer reasserting their demand.

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