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Can Your Council Eavesdrop On Your Conversations?

Using surveillance devices to listen to, record and monitor people's conversations is reportedly at the heart of a new plan from Brisbane City Council.

According to the Courier Mail, the council believes it should be allowed to collect data determining the location of people and their cars.

This was revealed in a council submission to the Queensland Law Reform Commission inquiry, the Queensland newspaper reported. The inquiry aims to examine the level of civil surveillance is best for both citizens and government.

"The need to regulate the use of surveillance devices and technologies to protest individuals against interferences with privacy must be balanced against the legitimate uses of surveillance," the Inquiry's terms of reference reads.

Brisbane council said in its submission that it does not support the total eradication of all surveillance of the population.

Call Centre
Brisbane City Council does not support the total eradication of all surveillance of the population. Image: Getty Images.

10 daily has requested a copy of the submission from Brisbane City Council.

The council claims it only wants to record audio from call centre conversations, not from the 131 CCTV cameras operational throughout the city.

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"Brisbane City Council does not use CCTV to monitor audio under any circumstances and has no plans to do so," a Council spokesperson told 10 daily.

"Council only records audio of phone calls made to its award-winning contact centre, after providing advance notice to the customer. Any suggestion otherwise is rejected."

The Queensland Invasion Of Privacy Act (1971) regulates the use of listening devices. Under the law, a 'listening device' is described as "any instrument, apparatus, equipment or device capable of being used to overhear, record, monitor or listen to a private conversation simultaneously with its taking place".

This means it is illegal in Queensland to record, overhear, monitor or listen to a private conversation. However, it's not illegal to record a conversation if one party involved agrees to it, which is why it's legal to record call centre conversations.

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Brisbane city skyline after dark. Image: Getty Images.

In Queensland, as well as the ACT and Tasmania, regulation occurs just for private conversations, but it's different in other jurisdictions.

Surveillance legislation in NSW, Victoria, the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australian regulates 'surveillance devices'. This encompasses listening devices, optical surveillance devices, tracking devices and (except in WA) data surveillance devices.

The City Of Sydney operates under the NSW laws and does not collect data about citizens or record conversations.

"The City of Sydney’s street safety CCTV program operates under a strict code of practice," a City of Sydney spokesperson told 10 daily.

"It is not used to monitor or record any audio or conversations. The City does not collect geographical data on the whereabouts of people or vehicles, besides what is recorded on CCTV cameras."

The Queensland Law Reform Commission review into civil surveillance and privacy continues.

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au