Thursday, March 15, 2018

Unlawful and unaccountable

The Independent Police Conduct Authority report on the police's use of a fake breath-testing checkpoint to collect the names and addresses of members of political group Exit International has been released, and it makes the expected finding that the checkpoint was an unlawful use of police power, and interfered with the right to freedom of movement. Oddly, though, it concludes that the police's subsequent visits to Exit International members - which the Privacy Commissioner considered to be an unlawful use of personal information - were justified as they were consistent with police policy. In other words, the IPCA thinks that it is just fine for the police to act on unlawfully obtained information.

And then we wonder why the police keep violating the law. The answer is right in front of us: because the IPCA consistently refuses to hold them to account for it.

Meanwhile, there's further disturbing information in the full report: the police didn't just spy on the meeting from outside and use a fake checkpoint to identify people - they also obtained a surveillance warrant to listen in on the meeting itself. That's right - they bugged a political meeting. The police are now directly intervening in politics.

The officers involved justified their subsequent actions on the basis that they believed attendees of the meeting were more likely to commit suicide afterwards. But suicide is not a crime, and has not been for over a century. The police were well outside their bounds here, and had moved from investigating and preventing crime to interfering in people's lives. And that's simply not acceptable.

There's no mention in the police's press release that the officers involved have been subjected to any disciplinary action whatsoever, despite abusing their powers and exposing the police to significant costs for BORA violations. Until individual police officers are held to account, this sort of abuse of power is going to continue.