Thursday, September 08, 2022

The police piss on the law again

In 2020, RNZ ran a story about police in Wairarapa coercing photographs from young Māori. it turned out this was a more widespread practice, and eventually the Privacy Commissioner and Independent Police Conduct Authority began an investigation. Their report was released today, exposing illegality, systematic racism, and widespread ignorance among police officers of the limits on their behaviour. Not only were police coercing "voluntary" photographs from young Māori on the street - they were also coercing "voluntary" additional sets of photographs and fingerprints when they arrested someone in an explicit attempt to evade statutory limitations on retaining that information - a practice so obviously illegal that the Privacy Commissioner was forced to issue a compliance notice forbidding it. There are other disturbing practices - including photographing people at traffic stops and videoing people who are videoing them in an explicit effort to deter such scrutiny - all of which shows a widespread disregard for the Privacy Act's requirement that collection of personal information have a lawful purpose. There's also a passing comment about widespread ignorance among officers of the core BORA provisions relating to search, seizure, and freedom from arbitrary detention. All of which says that the police have a significant practice, culture and training problem

So are the police going to fix it? Of course not. They've treated the report with the same contempt they treat other IPCA reports, refusing to accept some findings because it would "present significant challenges to our staff being able to carry out their duties successfully". Because apparently, they're unable to enforce the law unless they routinely and systematically break it.

This isn't good enough. Oversight bodies are there for a reason, and the agencies they oversee need to listen to them. And if the police won't do that voluntarily, then its time to give the IPCA compliance notice powers like those enjoyed by the Privacy Commissioner, as well as leadership willing to use them. Because we cannot tolerate the police pissing on the law like this.