12 Oct 2022

Photography essential part of intelligence gathering, Minister of Police says

3:02 pm on 12 October 2022
AUCKLAND - MAR 30 2017:New Zealand Police officers on crime respond. With over 11,000 staff it is the largest law enforcement agency in New Zealand

Minister Chris Hipkins said he would support police challenging a report that condemned the taking of fingerprint data and photographs from youths. Photo: Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleons Eye/ 123rf

The minister of police is not ruling out a law change to support police in continuing to take photographs and fingerprints from young people.

Speaking at the annual police association conference this morning, minister Chris Hipkins said he would support police challenging a report which condemned the taking of fingerprint data and photographs from youths.

Hipkins said he "wouldn't take off the table the potential for Parliament to take further action to support the police".

The report in question, released by the Independent Police Conduct Authority and the Privacy Commissioner last month, found photos and fingerprints of five youth in Wairarapa were taken illegally.

It suggested police practices needed a drastic overhaul, but Hipkins said photography was an essential part of intelligence gathering.

"I think it will certainly slow down the identification of an increasing number of youth offenders," Hipkins said.

"And that's likely to have, that could have a really concerning effect, because it would lead to a greater sense of impunity amongst some of those young people."

Hipkins said much of this data was given voluntarily. "In many cases, in fact, they are consenting and their parents are consenting. And so you know, the issue here is, what real harm has been caused by this?"

"I understand the privacy principles in question here. But actually, there's a countervailing interest as well," he said.

The review found rangatahi were sometimes coerced into offering what were dubbed voluntary photographs or fingerprints, which was a way police worked around the law.

Indigenous data specialist Karaitiana Taiuru said he was shocked when he saw the minister's comments.

"I did read it twice, just to make sure I did read it correctly," Taiuru said.

"To me, it's almost like legislating discrimination against young Māori by the police. We know from the IPCA that is exactly what happened - Māori were over-targeted for photos, for ID. Now the minister is talking about legislating it, it just makes no sense."

Hipkins said legislative change on this front was still some time away.

"One way or the other, I think change is likely to be required in that area so I'm just waiting to get the policy advice back on that, but I do agree that voluntary finger-printing, for example, particularly where parental consent is - in fact some parents are encouraging it - ruling that out I think would be short-sighted."

Taiuru said there were a number of risks that had not been considered, and citizens deserved a right to privacy.

He said the government risked legislating discrimination, and the move would do little to help build trust.

"The government has been called out a number of times just this year for not engaging with Māori on technologies. My opinion is that this will just create further mistrust and it's inter-generational mistrust of the New Zealand police, of the government, that's not helpful for anyone."

On the other hand, Hipkins said there were a range of safeguards being considered.

Taiuru and other Māori advocates have already promised strong opposition.

Taiuru said the best thing the government could do was engage properly and transparently.

Police Association boss and Privacy Commissioner respond

President of the New Zealand Police Association Chris Cahill said the rule change had an immediate effect on victims of crime.

"Currently there [are] hundreds of crimes where the offenders have been identified by the use of voluntary fingerprints that [police] cannot act on.

"So those crimes are not being solved or resolved, because the inability of police now to use those voluntary fingerprints."

Privacy Commissioner Michael Webster said, in a statement: "Under current privacy legislation Police can collect photographs for a broad range of policing purposes. This includes intelligence gathering where there is a reasonable possibility that an individual could be relevant to a specific or likely investigation. The collection and retention of photographs and biometric prints is also covered by the Policing Act.

"Our Joint Inquiry with the IPCA found that front-line officers need to have effective tools, training and procedures to ensure that they are making lawful judgement calls about the use of personal information. Photographs and fingerprints can be powerful policing tools, but as sensitive biometric personal information they must be collected, used, stored and retained lawfully and safely.

"We welcome careful scrutiny of the legislation overseeing this area, which as well as the Privacy Act includes the Policing Act and the Oranga Tamariki Act, as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"Broad public debate can help ensure the fundamental freedoms of rangatahi and all citizens are rightly protected through legislation and proper process."

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