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The Federal Government is likely to announce a change to a controversial law that gives police access to people’s mobile phones and online metadata.

The move comes as part of the Government’s wider plans to create an independent authority on police investigation powers.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will make the announcement in a speech on Wednesday, but has so far not named any legislation to change the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (TIA) — part of the law that has been used to force Facebook to remove content about people who had paid for it.

Lawyer David Smith, who is overseeing efforts to change the law, told The New Daily that it would be a big step for the government, but did not suggest what particular piece of legislation it was considering.

“Given the nature of the matter — it’s very much about intercepting digital communications — it would be wrong, politically, to try and hide the process,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if they announced that there will be a major legislative change. I can’t do it for you but I’m confident that it will be done.”

The new authority, which is being overseen by Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim, could create a two-tier system to access the data of mobile phone holders.

Currently TIA allows a police officer to access the metadata of a phone in a similar situation to that of a search warrant: it is enough to show that some data on the device was “relevant” to an investigation, and that a warrant is needed.

This has caused privacy advocates anxiety because it allows a police officer to access the location of the phone, as well as the content of emails and text messages.
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“I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if they announced that there will be a major legislative change that would be that there will be two tiers, there will be no tier,” Professor Smith said.

“When we say there will be two tiers, that’s just that, there will be one tier and then there will be something like a ‘no tick’ to that.

“There will be a process whereby any phone or communications device is accessed at that time under a TIA notice of the authority. There is nothing in the legislation that suggests that any other phone or any other digital communications device will be searched after this.”

He said if the changes to the law were made, there could be some delays