A Queensland Police Service (QPS) employee who hacked the service’s confidential database over seven years has been resentenced after an appeal by the Commissioner of Police.
Tracey Lea Hurling was fined $5000 and had no convictions recorded when she pleaded guilty to 20 charges in the Brisbane Magistrates Court in February.
In a decision published on Thursday, District Court Judge Byrne vacated that sentence, and for eight of those charges, he imposed jail terms totalling seven years and three months, suspended for 12 months, and ordered convictions be recorded. For the remainder of the charges, he imposed a single fine of $5000, with no conviction recorded.
Hurling was charged with computer hacking and misuse under Section 408E(2) of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld), involving the QPRIME database, between November 2013 and August 2020.
When employed as a high-level QPS administrative officer, she altered or removed information from QPRIME 13 times, tried unsuccessfully to alter or remove information three times, and accessed information to gain a benefit four times. The offences were uncovered during a regular audit.
The offending included:
- adjusting the stated value of stolen items in a theft report she had made;
- deleting and attempting to delete information about charges of shop stealing and assault laid against her, including details of her arrest;
- deleting information from a theft report she had made for insurance purposes;
- linking a vehicle registered to her ex-partner to other information;
- linking her residential address and neighbours’ addresses to a public nuisance report, and setting up a “search hit flag” to be notified when another QPRIME user accessed the information;
- searching driver licence records for herself and others, including her then partner and his ex-wife; and
- searching records of residences, for people and events associated with those residences.
The prosecutor stressed the seriousness of the offending in terms of the importance of the maintenance of the integrity of the QPRIME system, the period of time over which the offending occurred, the actual alteration of information in the system on occasions, and the fact that Hurling’s conduct stopped only as a result of an audit.
Defence counsel argued the matter “was one of ill-advised mischief rather than explicit misconduct”, and that the offending “was motivated by vanity because of a concern that others would discover personal matters about her if they were searching through the system”.
Judge Byrne stated there were varying degrees of seriousness in the conduct, but police information records “must remain secure and complete”, so “even the less serious offending cannot be regarded as trivial or inconsequential”.
He also said no acceptable explanation for Hurling’s conduct had been offered.
“It is open to infer that she was doing nothing more than prying into other people’s personal lives, especially given that one was an ex-partner of hers, one was her current partner and one was the ex-wife of her current partner,” he said.
“This style of conduct is a direct breach of the expectation of privacy that members of the community are entitled to expect of an organisation that necessarily holds private, and potentially embarrassing, information.
“It deserves punishment that adequately expresses the need for deterrence so as to promote public confidence in the ability of the QPS to properly perform its functions.
“It is also relevant to note that the respondent held a position of responsibility, which allowed her access to the QPRIME system in the first place.”
Judge Byrne said the sentenced imposed at the first instance was manifestly inadequate in respect of some of the offences.
“I accept that the sentence imposed does not properly reflect the seriousness of some of the offending, that it fails to recognise issues of general deterrence and community denunciation and that it fails to provide safeguards recognising the rights of others who will deal with the respondent in future to be aware of, at least some, matters relating to her integrity,” he said.
He said the most serious examples of Hurling’s offending revealed “a defect in integrity of such a nature that, in my view, others are entitled in the modern world of computerised record keeping, including that of personal records, to be aware of”.
“They also evidence some determination and persistence on her part to achieve whatever was her motivation for that offending,” he said.
No order was made as to costs.