9 Apr 2018

Immigration Minister puts controversial profiling programme on hold

7:10 pm on 9 April 2018

The Immigration Minister has put the controversial pilot data modelling programme on hold.

No caption

Photo: 123RF

Immigration New Zealand had been running a pilot data modelling programme in the past 18 months, targeting overstayers by using data such as age and gender to identify troublemakers.

The programme was being used to identify migrants who would pose the greatest risk of breaching visa conditions or overstay their visa.

But Immigration Minister Iain Lees Galloway has insisted neither race nor nationality were used.

"Immigration New Zealand have assured me that nationality and race are not criteria that are used in this pilot programme," he said.

He said the criteria that was used included age, gender, the number of times people had applied for a visa, whether any fraud had been committed during past visa applications, and any criminal activity.

Mr Galloway said the pilot has been put on hold while officials double check the data is being used appropriately and legally, including within privacy guidelines.

"I've asked Immigration New Zealand to engage with the Privacy Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission, they are doing that, they are speaking with the Human Rights Commissioner tomorrow and the Privacy Commission next week," he said.

A briefing document shows that since the pilot was put in place, deportations rose from 564 in 2016 to 827 last year, but Mr Lees-Galloway said Immigration New Zealand had been unable to identify any significant changes to deportation figures as a result of the pilot programme.

"The fact is there are 11,000 people in the country illegally and prosecuting them is a resource intensive activity... enforcement action should be taken against everybody who is here illegally but Immigration New Zealand are looking to prioritise."

He said he was concerned about misconceptions around the pilot programme.

"Some people were talking about a sophisticated algorithm some people were talking about racial profiling, both of those are incorrect and I think it's very important that the public know exactly what this is, and what it isn't," he said.

"This is not modelling or a predictive tool - this is a spreadsheet that they put some information into and they rank people based on that information."

He said it was important government agencies were able to use data, but it had to be used for the purposes for which it was collected.

"I'm interested in what the Privacy Commissioner has to say about that. Immigration New Zealand is quite confident that they have been acting appropriately, I just want to have that confirmed."

Mr Lees-Galloway said he did not believe Immigration New Zealand sought legal advice before the pilot programme began.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs