Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The police are out of control

On Friday, RNZ carried a story about the police use of Auror, a private surveillance network. Police use it to track people and vehicles using ANPR, washing their hands of any legal restrictions or privacy obligations because the actual surveillance is being done by a private company. That's bad enough, but it gets worse: in at least one high-profile case, when police couldn't meet even Auror's lax standards to obtain information, they simply created false crime reports in order to get it:

Police falsely reported cars as stolen to gain access to powerful databases that record number plates when hunting for the women whose travel sparked the Northland Covid-19 lockdown last October.

Detectives identified the cars associated with the women then listed the vehicles as stolen which opened access to Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems operated by two private-sector companies with a massive network of CCTV cameras.


A spokesperson for Police National Headquarters said it was not known whether officers had falsely reported cars as stolen on other occasions so as to access the powerful network of cameras.

The government says they are "concerned", and so they ought to be. Because this smacks of a deep culture in the police of ignoring legal safeguards and telling whatever lies are required to get their man (or woman). We saw that culture on display when they falsely told Martyn Bradbury's bank that he had committed computer fraud in order to access his bank records. Most infamously, we saw it during the stitch-up of Arthur Allen Thomas, when the police simply planted evidence to secure a conviction. And like that latter example, this case was a serious crime. That fake police report was a false document. Merely making it with the intention that it be acted upon as genuine is forgery, punishable by up to three years imprisonment. Actually using it and causing someone to act upon it as if it were genuine is using forged documents, punishable by ten years imprisonment (other offences might also apply if the surveillance data obtained is viewed as a "property, privilege, service [or] benefit"). This is serious criminal behaviour, which is completely unacceptable from the police. But I expect the police will simply refuse to prosecute their own, even if the IPCA recommends it, and corruptly abuse their power to prevent one of the gang from being held to account.

As for Auror, using it to search for someone using ANPR is fairly clearly a "search" in the current legal understanding of the term (in that it clearly interferes with the reasonable expectation of privacy). And its worth noting that the GCSB requires an individualised warrant to search NSA databases for information about New Zealanders. The same rule should apply to police to search systems like Auror. And if that fucks Auror's business model, well, that's too bad. Circumventing warrant requirements should not be allowed to be sold as a service, and is not the sort of "disruption" and "disintermediation" that our society should tolerate.