THE Law Council of Australia is calling on the federal government to further amend the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 to require law enforcement and intelligence agencies to obtain a warrant to access client-lawyer communications.
This follows the Government's intention to amend the act around journalist's telecommunications data.
"The Law Council's position is simple - lawyer communications deserve the same level of protection to that afforded to journalists," says Law Council of Australia President, Duncan McConnel.
He adds that people who engage a lawyer need to know their communications are confidential and that legal professional privilege is not lost under the proposed data retention bill.
"The confidentiality of client-lawyer communication is a long-held common law right and we need to be vigilant to protect it," he says.
Currently, the bill does not provide any assurance that the confidential relationship between a client and a lawyer will not be compromised.
"It is not difficult to envisage situations where client-lawyer telecommunications data would reveal a range of information that could compromise confidentiality and even legal professional privilege," says McConnel.
"For example, what would happen if a whistle-blower seeks legal advice prior to, or during communication with a journalist? Under the proposed amendments, the journalist's communication may be confidential, but what of the communications between a journalist or the journalist's source and the lawyer?
"Data could allow inferences to be drawn from whether a lawyer has been contacted; the identity and location of the client, lawyer and witnesses; the number of communications and type of communications between a lawyer and a client, witnesses and the duration of these communications."
The Law Council of Australia says the potential for client legal privilege to attach to the disclosure of a client's identity and contact details means that heightened protections for client-lawyer telecommunications data should be built into the legislation.
"The introduction of a warrant process to access client-lawyer telecommunications data is a simple but effective safeguard," says McConnel.
"As a minimum, a parliamentary inquiry should be conducted into access to telecommunications data of lawyers to ensure there are sufficient safeguards to protect privileged and confidential information."
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