Thursday, January 19, 2023

Are the police following the law on DNA?

Back in November, Newsroom reported that the police were racist in their collection of DNA samples from young people. The report came on the back of widespread police racism, illegality, and abuse of privacy in their policy of photographing and fingerprinting Māori youth.

When I blogged about this, I highlighted another issue: removals. Various provisions of the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act 1995 require samples to be removed from the databank. Section 36 requires samples taken by "consent" from people to be destroyed if the consent is withdrawn (unless the police get a court order). Section 26A requires samples taken from young people effectively convicted of an offence to be destroyed if the person is not convicted of further offences within four or ten years. Section 26B allows samples from young people to be removed by application, under similar conditions. The latter two sections were passed in 2009 and 2010, so samples should have been being removed from the databank for nine years now. So have they been? back in November, I lodged an OIA request with police asking for statistics on removals under these sections, as well as a copy of their procedure for doing so. The police ignored it. Today, presumably after being contacted by the Ombudsman, they finally replied, stating that the information was not held. In other words, they have no statistics, and they have no procedure.

No statistics could just be the usual appalling police record-keeping, but its almost certainly a violation of the Public Records Act. Having no procedure OTOH is absolutely damning. It strongly suggests that the police are not complying with the requirements of the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act 1995 around removing samples, and possibly that they have never complied with them. Someone needs to be asking Chris Hipkins pointy questions about this, and the IPCA and Privacy Commissioner need to investigate (and issue a compliance notice if necessary). As with the requirements around photographs and fingerprints (and warrants and production orders), Parliament passed these provisions for a reason. And its not acceptable for the police to ignore the law simply because they don't like it or can't be bothered.