Thursday, January 11, 2018

Mosquitos and the Human Rights Act

The Mosquito is a sound system that emits a deafening whine at a frequency older people cannot hear. It is explicitly used to deny access to public space to young people and to "deter" them from "congregating". Over the past few years, such devices have been installed by a number of New Zealand local authorities in parks and other public spaces, often at the behest of the police.

It also pretty obviously violates the Human Rights Act.

The Human Rights Act includes age (meaning any age above 16 years) as a prohibited ground of discrimination. Refusing access by the public to places, vehicles, or facilities on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination is illegal. But this is the explicit purpose of Mosquito devices, and the sound they emit is expected to be heard by people up to the age of 25. So, the explicit purpose of such devices is to deny people access to spaces (by making it damn unpleasant to be there), on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Using such a device might not be unlawful where the space is already closed to everyone, regardless of age. "Might" because local authorities (and the police who are advising them) have wider obligations not to discriminate under the Bill of Rights Act, and these may rule out specifically age-based measures unless they can meet the stringent test of a justified limitation. And because the effects of these devices may intrude into areas which are not closed, which immediately violates freedom from discrimination, as well as the freedoms of movement, assembly and association. What is clear is that deploying them in or in a way which affects public streets, open parks, "pedestrian links", or any public space is discriminatory and illegal.

As for what to do about it, complaining to the Human Rights Commission seems to be a good place to start.

(This post was inspired by a request on FYI, the public OIA request site, about the Dunedin City Council's use of a Mosquito)