Unsecured police data blamed for gun thefts

Senior police are refusing to tighten security around firearms owners’ personal details despite growing concerns that criminals are using police information in targeted thefts.

Police whistleblowers have confirmed fears that every firearm owner in NSW is in danger of targeted theft after police at all levels were given access to their details during the state-wide audit of gun owners.

The data was not encrypted, was downloaded onto the unsecured police intranet and, in some cases, may have been printed out and lost.

The Shooters and Fishers Party has been trying to have gun owners’ data properly secured since at least 2010, and now says they’re concerned that even IT workers in India may have been able to easily access shooters’ personal details.

The issue came to a head again last week when an elderly firearms owner was bashed and robbed in his home, suffering a heart attack in the process and losing nine handguns and longarms.

Speaking on Friday on 2GB radio, SFP member of the NSW upper house, Robert Borsak, said the problem was “a lot more systematic” than examples of police losing paperwork.

“A police whistleblower contacted us, who is a shooter, and told us what was going on – that large slabs of the encrypted COPS system had been downloaded onto the police intranet,” Mr Borsak said.

He said this had been done so that police could conduct safe storage inspections, and the practice had been going on for some time.

Complaints to the previous police minister had initially resulted in senior police denying it was happening, but they quickly retracted the statement when they discovered the officer then in charge of Corporate Services, Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn, had allowed it to happen.

The practice was stopped, but after the last NSW election and change of government, it appears it is happening again.

“That whole process has continued,” Mr Borsak said. “It came back under the new government.”

Borsak said he couldn’t understand why firearm owners’ details were not kept in the encrypted COPS system, where police must identify themselves when accessing data.

All NSW driving licence and car registration information has been stored in the COPS system for years to reduce corrupt use of the data.

“I asked the whistleblower policeman if he could access my information,” Borsak said. “He accessed it all and emailed me a copy of all my details.”

On Thursday, Detective Superintendant Ken Finch reiterated to 2GB’s Ray Hadley that the Firearms Registry’s security had been checked and given a tick of approval after concerns were raised in 2012.

He dismissed as “anecdotal” evidence of problems after police at all levels, including volunteers, had handled firearms owners’ data during the recent state-wide audit of gun owners.

Finch insisted police and volunteers had to be trusted with sensitive data and brushed aside the possible loss of printed information as being an issue for local area commanders.

The spike in gun thefts in NSW came at about the same time as the state-wide police audit began, but Finch said police “can’t pinpoint anything that would suggest” a link between the inspections and thefts, and implied it was more likely that knowledge within local communities, gun clubs and firearm dealers was to blame.

He said in the majority of thefts where the firearms were subsequently recovered, locals had been the culprits.

Borsak reacted angrily to Finch’s comments and accused senior police of trying to cover their tracks over the issue.




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.