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Unlawful and unfair collection of personal information by police in Lower Hutt

News from OPC
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards says a Police checkpoint in 2016 unlawfully and unfairly collected personal information, harming some of the people affected.

The breath-testing checkpoint was set up near an Exit International meeting in Lower Hutt. Police at the checkpoint collected the names and addresses of people who had attended the meeting. Police later visited some of the attendees.

The Commissioner initiated an investigation after the media reported on the incident in October 2016. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) later received complaints from individuals affected by the incident. The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) investigated after complaints from the public and a self-referral by Police.

OPC investigated the collection of personal information at the checkpoint, while IPCA investigated Police actions and the subsequent use of the information. Each organisation investigated under its own Act.

In June 2017, OPC completed their investigation and advised the parties of its final view. It found the collection of personal information at the checkpoint to be both unlawful and unfair. The way information was collected breached principle 4 of the Privacy Act 1993.

“Police used an unlawful checkpoint to take advantage of the public’s trust in them and collect information from people who were not legally required to provide it,” Mr Edwards said.

“The primary function of Police is to maintain the law and there is an expectation that they will follow the law and their own policies at all times. This is especially the case when they engage with members of the public or use their powers to investigate offences.”

Some complainants said the visits from Police made them feel uncertain about their ability to speak freely and anxious that more visits would follow.

“Police approached them after unlawfully collecting their information, and questioned them about a socially and politically sensitive subject. It is fair to say that the actions by the Police officers caused those complainants harm,” Mr Edwards said.

Mr Edwards acknowledged that Police believed the meeting attendees were at risk, and said that apologies from Police and an undertaking to delete the information collected at the checkpoint were appropriate resolutions to the complaints.

News release from IPCA
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that Police were not justified in stopping vehicles at a vehicle checkpoint to identify individuals who had attended an “Exit International” meeting in Lower Hutt on 2 October 2016.

Police had been monitoring the meeting as part of an investigation into the death of an elderly woman who had ingested pentobarbitone, a controlled drug used to euthanise animals. While monitoring the meeting Police overheard a discussion about how to import the drug and ways to commit suicide.

Police considered that the meeting attendees might be at risk of harm and set up a checkpoint immediately after the meeting had concluded, to identify them. Police intended to provide welfare support to those identified, and visited a number of people for that purpose several days after the checkpoint happened.

The Police power to stop a vehicle is provided by section 114 of the Land Transport Act 1998. This enables Police to stop motorists for the purpose of enforcing land transport legislation. The checkpoint was not for that purpose and was therefore unlawful.

“Police should have recognised that they had no power to stop vehicles in these circumstances”, said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty. “It was an illegitimate use of Police power that unlawfully restricted the right of citizens to freedom of movement.”

However, the Authority has found that the subsequent Police welfare support visits did not breach the Privacy Act 1993 and were in accordance with Police operational policy and the duty of Police to protect life and safety.

“The Authority acknowledges that the welfare support visits generated stress and apprehension among some of those visited”, said Judge Doherty. “But they were well intentioned and generated by a genuine concern for the wellbeing of those visited. There is no evidence that the visits were intended or used for any investigative purpose.”

News release from End-of-Life Choice Society
The End-of-Life Choice Society wants an apology from the police for an illegal roadside checkpoint and assurances that its campaign for a law change will not be targeted with unwarranted surveillance and intervention, its President Maryan Street said Thursday.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority found that police acted unlawfully when five officers mounted a roadside checkpoint in October 2016 stopping people who had attended a voluntary euthanasia meeting in a Lower Hutt house.

The finding confirmed that those stopped at the bogus checkpoint were targeted for their beliefs and lawful activism, not because of any threat to law and order or public safety, Maryan Street said.

Some members of EOLC – which is campaigning for a change in the law to allow medically assisted dying for the terminally ill and those suffering intolerably – attended the meeting and were asked to give personal details, including their addresses, when stopped.

They were later visited at their homes by police officers making so-called “welfare visits” who asked if they were considering suicide.

“None of the people visited were at imminent risk of suicide,” Maryan Street said. “The police frightened and intimidated adults who were not committing any crime in the misguided belief that they were looking after their welfare.”

The IPCA found that the checkpoints were unlawful but deemed the visits “appropriate” and consistent with the police’s duty to protect life.

“That is illogical,” said EOLC secretary Carole Sweney. “How can action carried out as a consequence of an unlawful act be appropriate?”

Maryan Street said the IPCA report added pressure to the need for a law change. “All those involved in the criminal justice system, including the police, are dealing with issues that are beyond the scope of current laws.

“Issues of end-of-life choice should be dealt with as part of the health system and in the frameworks of human rights and the Bill of Rights.”

Note: The End-of-Life Choice Society is not associated with Exit International, which organised the Lower Hutt meeting, but some members belong to both organisations. EOLC complained to the IPCA on behalf of its members who were stopped at the road checkpoint and later visited by police at their homes.

News release from ActNZ

“The Police Commissioner had a chance to take responsibility for his officers breaking the law and, having ducked the issue, is not fit for office,” says ACT Leader David Seymour. “Requiring police to follow the law is what separates a free society like New Zealand from becoming a police state.

“The Privacy Commissioner clearly understands the principle at stake when he ruled that Police had invaded people’s privacy. He said ‘The primary function of Police is to maintain the law and there is an expectation that they will follow the law and their own policies at all times. This is especially the case when they engage with members of the public or use their powers to investigate offences.

“The Independent Police Conduct Authority has been crystal clear that “Police were not justified in establishing a vehicle checkpoint to identify individuals who had attended an Exit International meeting.”

“The Police accept in the IPCA report that the officers involved did not even consider whether they were breaking the law.

“The IPCA saw the Police’s post-hoc justification that s41 of the Crimes Act allows force to be used to prevent suicide for what it was, a weasel’s exercise in bottom covering.

“The Police response, put out by the Associate Commissioner (simultaneously with the IPCA report), is even weaker. They ‘accept that establishing a vehicle checkpoint to identify meeting attendees was unlawful. However, our staff acted in order to protect life and did not intentionally break the law.’

“A Police Commissioner who thinks it is okay for the Police to break the law so long as they mean well is intolerable. It amounts to saying New Zealanders’ rights are at the whim of what police officers think is good for them.

“In case there is any suggestion the police really were acting in people’s best interests, members of the public interviewed by the IPCA that police later visited said the found the visits ‘patronising’ and ‘threatening.’

“In spite of that, there will be no consequences for anyone in the police who broke the law. What leadership is the Commissioner showing, and what message is that leadership sending to the nation’s Police officers, if breaking the law is just part of being on the beat?

“Despite the seriousness of this case, the Police have engaged in post-hoc self-justification and avoidance of responsibility. The Commissioner has said there will be no consequences for those Police officers who broke the law. If he cannot run the Police in line with the fundamental rights and freedoms of New Zealanders, then he is unfit for office and must resign.”

3 comments:

  1. Ian Apperley, 15. March 2018, 15:04

    And… zero accountability.

     
  2. Rash, 21. March 2018, 10:56

    Drain the swamp.

     
  3. Conn G, 21. March 2018, 11:38

    The officers who conducted this road block check, must have done so on the specific instructions from a superior officer/s.