Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reported back

The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back [PDF] on the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Amendment Bill. The bill would empower the police to forcibly take DNA samples from anyone arrested for an imprisonable offence, without any judicial oversight whatsoever. National's own Attorney-General thinks it is a gross violation of the right against unreasonable search and seizure, and to that I'd also add the preumption of innocence as well. The aim of the bill is to allow the police to build up a larger and larger database of profiles - including those of people who have been acquitted, and those of completely innocent people who have given them "voluntarily" after police intimidation - so as to go on fishing expeditions. And sadly, the Committee endorsed this, saying that expecting the police to go to a judge everytime they wanted to forcibly stick a needle in someone's arm or a swab in someone's mouth to gain extremely personal information would be "inconvenient". Instead, they think that the police's general requirement to respect the rights affirmed in the BORA is sufficient to ensure that these new powers are not abused. Yeah, right.

(Though what this does mean is that any police abuse can be dealt with by the courts, and this may result in cases being thrown out where they rely on DNA samples taken in breach of the BORA. But I prefer to put a fence at the top of the cliff rather than a hugely expensive and inconvenient ambulance at the bottom).

This authoritarian bill is massively out of step with international human rights law and police practice. Every other country in the world requires strong judicial safeguards around the taking of DNA. The UK police have just been told by the European Court of Human Rights that they cannot retain the DNA of innocent people. Meanwhile, we're moving in the opposite direction, towards more invasive powers and less police accountability. So much for being a human rights leader.