November 8, 2011

Multimedia journalist Justin O’Brien reports from outside the Los Angeles Criminal Court House on the Doctor Conrad Murray guilty verdict. Dr Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of pop star Michael Jackson in 2009.

Reported, filmed, written and edited by Justin O’Brien.



January 31, 2011

On November 11, 2010 I submitted a complaint to the OmbudsmanNT about Northern Territory Police accessing my personal telephone records.

The police investigation was part of a ‘witch hunt’ to try and identify the anonymous NT Police sources I quoted while reporting for the NT News on a drug squad raid at Darwin Lord Mayor Graeme Sawyer’s house.

The report can be downloaded by clicking on this link:

OmbudsmanNT final report

Or read the an edited version of  OmbudsmanNT report below.

Commissioner John McRoberts

Dear Mr O’Brien

RE: Complaint against Police

I refer to your written complaint to this Office dated 11 November 2010, regarding the Northern Territory Police accessing your mobile phone records without your permission or knowledge and your request to investigate whether that conduct was unlawful or not.

I accepted your request not to have the Ethical and Professional Standards Command (EPSC) deal with your complaint and my office made enquiries.


As you are aware on 20 October 2010 the Northern Territory Police executed a search warrant at a house situated in Wagaman. An NT News article written by you about this search, published on 21 October 2010, stated that information had been provided to the media by a police source.

That information included the identity of the owner of the house at Wagaman which was information not released to the media by NT Police.

The Police received a complaint from the home owner dated 27 October 2010 regarding leaked information. The EPSC had prior to that date launched an investigation to find the

Darwin Lord Mayor Graeme Sawyer

Darwin Lord Mayor Graeme Sawyer

Police Officer responsible. The Ombudsman was notified of the complaint from the homeowner on 5 November 2010.

The actions of a police officer providing information to you was a breach of Section 155 of the Police Administration Act. It was also potentially an offence under Section 76 of the Criminal Code:

’76 (1) Any person who, being employed in the public service or engaged to do any work for or render any service to the government of the Territory or any department or statutory body thereof, unlawfully communicates confidential information coming to his knowledge because of such position is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for 3 years.

(2) If he does so for purposes of gain he is liable to imprisonment for 5 years.’

If an offence was committed by a police officer providing information to the NT News the person obtaining that information could also have been guilty of the same offence as an accomplice, inciter, abettor or procurer.

A155 Communication of information

(1) A member shall not, without reasonable cause, publish or communicate any fact or document to any other person which comes to the knowledge or into the possession of the member in the course of his duties as a member and which the member has not been authorised to disclose.

Justin B. O'Brien - Multimedia Journalist

Multimedia Journalist - Justin O'Brien

Penalty: $1,000 or imprisonment for 6 months or both

First CCR search — 19 October — 22 October

On 21 October 2010 a Senior Constable from the Operational Intelligence Section (015) completed a Request form which was allocated to another Senior Constable from the Drug and Intelligence Division. The Request was for CCR and RCCR records for the period

19/10/2010 to 22/10/2010 for your mobile 0401442440. On 22 October 2010 the acting Officer in Charge of 015 authorised the request.

The Authorisation was electronically sent to Optus on 22 October 2010. Unfortunately the officer completing the electronic request made a clerical error and entered incorrect information into the document citing that the CCR and RCCR information was for an investigation into offences contrary to the Misuse of Drugs Act.

This incorrect information appears to have no effect on the Police meeting the Commonwealth requirement for Authorisations. The request accurately recorded the enabling legislation (Section 178(2)).

Subsequently, Police noted their error and corrected their records identifying section 155 of the Police Administration Act as the reason for seeking the carrier (Optus) records. They also advised Optus of the mistake to ensure that no record existed linking your phone number as having some connection with the misuse of drugs.

The Police on obtaining your phone records determined the name of a Police officer believed to have breached section 155 of the Police Administration Act. Details for phone numbers showing on your records were sought from the carrier to identity the subscriber to that number.

The search of your charge records to this point was limited to a four day period during which it appeared that a Police officer provided information to you. Your records identified a Police officer’s phone number. The records showed two calls from your number to the officer’s and one call to you from the Police officer.

The first call on the records between the two numbers showed that the contact was initiated by you.

Ms Richards found NT Police acted 'unreasonably'.

I am satisfied that the records and evidence show that the first search of your call charge records was lawful and was reasonably necessary for the investigation of suspected offences. Those offences could have been breaches of Section 155 of the Police Administration Act, a breach of Section 76 of the Criminal Code and possible breaches of Sections 12, 43BG, 43BH, 43B1 or 104 of the Criminal Code. Further investigation by NT Police to find out who used the phone sets matching the subscriber numbers was warranted.

The Second CCR search — 22 September 2010 — 27 October 2010

On 28 October 2010 a Senior Constable from 01S, sent another request for your records. The request was only for your CCR records, ie, records of whom you called, not who called you. However the period was expanded seeking records from 22 September 2010 to 27 October 2010. The authorising officer was the Territory Intelligence Coordinator (TIC). The electronic Authorisation for your records was sent on 01/11/2010 to Optus. The Authorisation was given by a Senior Sergeant whom I am satisfied had a lawful delegation under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act.

Also on 28 October 2010 the Police applied for and obtained CCR’s (22/09/10 to 27/10/10) for a Police officer believed to have been responsible for the information leak.On 5 November 2010 this officer was interviewed and on 8 November 2010 the officer was disciplined (section 14(c) of the Police Administration Act) for not reporting contact with you.

Investigation Outcome

This investigation revealed that the Police made two (2) applications to Optus to obtain your CCR’s, the initial application included obtaining your RCCR’s.

I have seriously considered your view that Section 180(4) of the TIAA – Authorisations for access to prospective information or documents – applies to Section 178. Section 178 is the section of the TIAA that Police relied upon to obtain your records.

Prospective information (as referred to in section 180) is not defined within the Act, however it was described by NT Police as accessing real time data. In researching a 2007 submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee I found prospective data being described as information that comes into existence during the life of an authorisation. The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 Annual Report for the year ending 30 June 2009 describes prospective data as data that comes into existence during the period for which the authorisation is in force. It does not include data that came into existence before the authorisation was in force. The disclosure of prospective data may be authorised by a criminal law-enforcement agency when it is considered reasonably necessary, by an authorising officer, for the investigation of an offence with a prison term of at least three years.

The seeking of your phone records in the second instance (starting from 22/09/2010) was in my view unnecessary. At the time of this second request the Police Officer believed to be responsible for the ‘leak’ had been identified. You had identified yourself in the article you wrote as a possible accomplice.

The Police informed me that the second search of your CCRs was to find out what communication occurred between the Officer and you before and after the calls on 20 October 2010. They said that you and the officer connected to the number you called on 20 October might have been close friends regularly in touch which would tend to dilute anything sinister about the calls on 20 October. I was also told that it was necessary to have the records to be ready to challenge the officer concerned when he was interviewed in case he claimed to be regularly in touch with you as a friend. I reject that latter explanation as a sufficient reason justifying the extent of the records requested.

The officer concerned was interviewed three days before Optus provided the CCRs which causes me to discount the “friendship” defence as a sufficient reason. I also consider that even if the CCRs for a five week period showed that your phone and the officer’s phone were connected often, such records would not prove who made the calls and what was said. Those records for a five week period were not capable of disclosing anything of probative value beyond what  had  already been obtained by the first search.

Although I am satisfied that the second search of your CCRs was lawful and authorised under Section 178 of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act that search was “unreasonable” within the meaning of Section 101 of the OA. Police have powers and they have a discretion to decide when and how to exercise those powers. They also have a duty to respect the human rights and dignity of the citizens they serve and protect. There must be a balance maintained and intrusive powers ought not to be exercised unless it is reasonably necessary to do so. In the instance of the second search of your CCRs for a period of five weeks it is my opinion that the intrusion into your privacy was not reasonable even though it was lawful.

The Commissioner of Police disagrees with my view. His view is that the second request to Optus was in accord with “standard investigative techniques … to establish whether contact between parties is an ongoing occurrence and whether there is a pattern to the conduct…”.

I have not accepted that view in your case because any contact between you and a police officer prior to the execution of the warrant, on 20 October 2010, was of no relevance to an alleged offence of unlawful disclosure of an event which happened on one occasion only, on either 20 or 21 October 2010. I have given the Commissioner of Police my reasons for the view I hold and I include an extract of my letter to him:

“In my opinion to access phone call charge records for a period of three weeks before the event which precipitated the offence under Section 155 of the Police Administration Act was unreasonable. It was in my view unreasonable because any interaction or communication between Mr O’Brien and any police officer prior to the execution of the warrant on the house in question was not capable of producing any evidence that could logically have carried any probative value. Citizens of the Northern Territory have a human right to privacy, recognised by International Conventions and Declarations, and to some extent recognised by the Common Law.

There was no proportionality between the seriousness of the offence being investigated, the value of any information likely to be obtained and the degree of invasion of Mr O’Brien’s human right to privacy. It is the failure to balance the value of his rights against the outcome sought or potentially available that amounts to the exercise of the discretion to access his records being, in my view, unreasonable. In many other cases the investigative techniques you describe might well shift the balance and make the needs of law enforcement or prevention of harm reasonably override a person’s right to privacy. I do not believe it was reasonable to do so in this instance.”


I made four recommendations to the Commissioner of Police. The Commissioner of Police has accepted two of them as follows:

1. The Commissioner of Police will issue a general order to make it patent that access to a person’s telephone call records must be authorised by a member of the rank of Superintendent or above.

2. The Commissioner of Police will issue a new authorisation under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act replacing the exiting authorisation of Commissioner Paul White authorising only officers of the rank of Superintendent and above only to make requests for telephone call records under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act.

I note that you have approached my office concerning a response from NT Police to a request by NT News under the Information Act for the release of documents. It is correct that under the Information Act documents obtained by EPSC to investigate a complaint against Police that is covered by the Ombudsman Act are exempt from disclosure. That exemption arose first when NT Police notified the Ombudsman of the Lord Mayor’s complaint on 5 November 2010. No document before that date would be covered by the exemption of documents and information created or obtained under the Ombudsman Act.

Other exemptions may be applicable but not the exemption created by Section 49C of the Information Act. I do not know what documents were requested under the Information Act and I cannot investigate any matter arising under the Information Act unless it is referred to me by the Information Commissioner.

If you require any further information please contact the Assistant Ombudsman, Bert Hofer.

I advise that the notice served relating to disclosure of the draft of this report remains valid.

It does not apply to this report.




August 9, 2010

When I first arrived in Los Angeles in December 1993 – almost 17 years ago, it wasn’t unusual to see a homeless person pushing a shopping cart half full of drink cans and plastic


'Sorting The Street Gold'

bottles, on their way to recycle their loot for cash.

With this knowledge – I was recently intrigued by the number of regular Angelino’s who were using the recycling facilities, once the domain of the homeless.

In June, drove to my local Rite Aid drug store to purchase five litres of coolant for my Jeep (yes, you can purchase almost anything in an American drug store), when I was distracted by the large number of people at the rear of the parking lot.

These people weren’t there to shop at the drug store – but to use the recycling centre, operating out of an old shipping container.

“It’s better than putting it in the ocean” says Maria, a woman in her twenty’s who along with boyfriend Felix and her brother Michael have spent the past month collecting and storing their used plastic bottles and cans. “.. thousands and thousands of bottles end up in the ocean every year” she continues.

But, Michael and Felix’s motivations for recycling are more honest. “Why do I recycle?” asks Felix as he answers his own question, “Cause it’s good for the environment and at the end of the month when money is low, use the extra money.” Michael then pipes in – “… it just helps make extra cash every month.”

'Loaded Up With Recyclables'

'Loaded Up With Recyclables'

During the hour I am filming at the Vine Street, Hollywood recycling facility more than fifty people pull up in cars – men and women, families and unload their recyclable trash.

“It’s 50 percent homeless and 50 percent are people who the economy sucks for them right now. So they’re doing this on the side” claims Bakri, the owner of the Vine Street centre and two additional facilities several blocks away.

With money tight, either because of the ten percent and climbing unemployment rate due to the downturn in the US economy or fall-out from the sub-prime mortgage crisis, people now realise the recycling facility is a way to supplement their income with a few tax free dollars.

Homeless men like Dan and Julian, who I met don’t worry about these people with roofs over their head muscling in on their trade. “You know when I was born in my baby crib, I dreamed that I was going to push a cart and jump in dumpsters” says Dan in a threatening frustrated manner. “We’ll recycle anything that isn’t tired down.”

Julian is friendlier when questioned about his days. Pushing a cart He and Dan work as a team – ‘We got to walk a lot of mother fuck’en miles to get a little bit of money’ says Julian.

'Sorted' - 'Cash For Cans'

'Sorted' - 'Cash For Cans'

The Rite Aid parking lot and its daily transaction of pounds to dollars, says a lot about the current state of the American economy. Gone are the days when the homeless had a monopoly on LA’s street recycling business.

NOTE: The imperial system of measurement is used in the above article. The metric conversion is: one kilo of glass = US$0.24, one kilo of aluminium = US$3.31 and one kilo of plastic = US$2.05


May 14, 2009

(An eyewitness account of the Santa Barbara Wildfire as strong winds threatened to blow the blaze into the City.)

Santa Barbara is best known as a weekend escape from the smog and traffic of Los Angeles. Two hours up Highway One .. SB – ‘White, Quite and Wealthy’ .. I’d never ventured far from the tourist strip until a Wildfire threatened to engulf the City this week.

Employed by CBS News to film, edit and transmit footage for Correspondents Manuel Gallegus and Hari Sreenivasan – it was a ticket to the frontline of the Wildfire.  

'Give me your left shoulder forward!'

'Give me your left shoulder forward!'

Unlike Bushfires (Australian’s call Wildfires, Bushfires) I’d covered in Australia – most notable by their constant hot strong winds, the Santa Barbara fire was different. It rested during the day and came alive with the afternoon breeze, Santa Barbara locals call ‘Sundowners’. In Hawaii it would the name of a cocktail.    

The odd thing about covering fires in the USA is the unlimited access given to the ‘media’. While police road blocks prevented residents from checking on their homes – a flash of a your media credentials in Santa Barbara and you were free to travel anywhere in the fire zone.

In Australia – a Police road block is a road block and no amount of ‘fast’ talking will get you through. Thank God for the First Amendment – Freedom Of The Press.

But it’s a Freedom you don’t abuse. Covering a Malibu Wildfire years ago – a Police Officer waved me through a road block saying: ‘You now have the right to go and get yourself killed!’ And he was right.

It’s not until you drive the winding backstreets, roads, terraces and drives in the foothills of Santa Barbara that you comprehend the City’s wealth. Old money, new money .. does it really matter, it’s still money. 

(A tour through the burnt out remains of two Santa Barbara homes.)

No matter how many Bushfires, Wildfires or House fires I’ve seen – it still amazes me what survives and what melts. I’ve seen letter boxes untouched while to house is reduced to a concrete slab.

'The Burnt-Out Remains Of Two Houses'

'The Burnt-Out Remains Of Two Houses'






But, one thing that’s forever constant is the brave determination of fire fighters to save property – houses, cars, boats, sheds .. whatever. Filming from a house threatened by the Wildfire on Day Two – a Fire Captain told me: ‘We’re going to stand here and fight it .. we’re not going to let it get this house.’ They were unforgettable words in the face of frightening uncertainty. We left as the sky turned black or  as we say ‘from day to night’. The house survived albeit a little smoky, but unscratched.      

Here unlies a Wildfire secret not spoken about. The decision on what house will be protected and what house will not. Officially, houses cleared of vegetation are easier to defend than ones surrounded by trees and grass – and professional fire fighters make that judgement. 

Personal involvement, friendship, influence and association also play a part. At one house surrounded by trees and grass in the SB foothills, the owner admitted the firemen were there because they were his friends. Fair or unfair .. if you’re going to risk your life fighting a fire, you’d prefer to do it for a friend. 

When I told this story to a mate whose house is in a known LA City fires zone, he said .. ‘Thanks, I’d better go and make friends with some fire fighters.’ 


April 30, 2009


When I first heard the term ‘Caveat Emptor’ (Buyer Beware) in a business class – I thought ‘cool’ Latin, but having just purchased a second hand Jeep I understand its meaning, in plan English.

         Okay – the 1992 Jeep 4×4 Sport was a bargain. Advertised on ‘Craigslist’ saying it required a new alternator – after a test-drive the Jeep’s owner Daniel Holzman accepted my 12 hundred dollar offer. I returned late the next afternoon, paid his Dad (John) the cash and off I drove into the darkness.

         I got two miles up the road when without warning the radio died, all the lights in the dashboard went out and the engine started to ‘skip’-‘chug’ and ‘stumble’ (It ran great during a test drive the day before).

         Aware I wasn’t going to get far – I started to drive North, hoping to make it to the safer streets of Santa Monica where I could crash park my wounded vehicle. My journey ended 30 blocks later outside an industrial complex at the corner of Olympic and 20th Street.

What's in a name?

What’s in a name?

Immediately I called Daniel’s father John to explain what had happened. He said quote: ‘Oh .. no .. I can’t believe that. My son wouldn’t sell you a dud – let me speak to him. I don’t want you out of pocket on this .. I want to make this right!’

         In the darkness, I arranged a tow truck then telephoned Daniel Holzman who is working as a chef in New York. ‘Oh ..’ he said .. ‘my Dad did say the lights looked a little dim when you drove off!’ Daniel offered to take the car back – but I liked the car. Then came the statement of truth (Daniel) ‘I thought you would have at least made it home!’ We came to a verbal agreement to reimburse me for the

The Dints Show Character!

The Dints Show Character!

towing and taxi fare home.

         Carlo’s the tow truck driver arrived an hour later and we dropped the Jeep off at Pep Boys workshop. The repairs came to $500.

The next day I left a message on Daniel’s cell phone, telling him I was now on the road and gave a breakdown of the costs for towing and a taxi. He never called me back. So I telephoned John, his Dad. ‘Oh … I’m not taking money out of my pocket’, he said. ‘It’s an issue between you and Daniel’.

Feeling I had been ‘Somali Pirated’ after recounting down the phone line his commitments made two days before, I slipped into LA mode – ‘something along the lines of how was he going to sleep tonight with a crooked back!’

I didn’t pursue the issue after that. I could use the cash, but any funds reimbursed would have had been tainted – sometimes it’s best just to walk away.

But for what’s worth, I did learn a practical lesson no lecturer could ever teach – Buyer Beware or ‘Caveat Emptor’ for those who speak Latin.