More powers for the cops, that’ll solve everything

Written By: - Date published: 2:09 pm, February 11th, 2009 - 37 comments
Categories: law and "order" - Tags:

I was going to write about the new DNA powers National/ACT is giving the Police, but No Right Turn has already done it far better than I could:

The government’s bill allowing DNA to be taken from anyone arrested breaches the Bill of Rights Act [PDF].

The Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Amendment Bill would allow police to forcibly take DNA from anyone arrested or intended to be charged with a “relevant offence” without having to first apply to a judge. The list of offences police consider “relevant” – currently rape, murder, child abuse, serious assaults and burglary – will be initially expanded to include firearms offences, ordinary assault, “threatening acts”, receiving stolen property, killing someone with a car, peeping or peering, cruelty to a child (so smackers are in) and cruelty to animals (yes, really). Eventually it will be expanded to include any imprisonable offence – which means (for example) disorderly behaviour (a standard charge for protestors), breaching the RMA, and blasphemous libel. The relevance of DNA to these sorts of offences can charitably be described as “tenuous”, but that’s not the point. The police want to go fishing, and so are looking for any excuse to take your data and stick it in their database.

The problem, as the Attorney-General points out – is that this is a gross violation of the right against unreasonable search and seizure. Our entire legal tradition is predicated on the idea that if the police want to invade your privacy by e.g. searching you or your house, they must have specific and reasonable grounds which apply particularly to you; they can’t just strip search you for the hell of it or kick in your door at random. They have to have something specific pointing specifically at you, suggesting they will find the evidence they are looking for.

This bill throws all that out the window. It makes the mere fact of suspicion itself (rather than the grounds for suspicion) enough to take evidence and conduct searches which may have no connection to the original offence. And it does this for a particularly invasive form of search. Taking a DNA sample is not like taking a fingerprint (something which can be done to anyone arrested). It yields far more – and far more private – information, and uses far more invasive methods. It requires them to stick needles into you. That should require a very high threshold. Instead, the police want to do it to anyone who comes into their hands as a routine procedure.

Yes, it would make the police’s job easier. Yes, it would probably result in them catching a few more burglars (because that’s what the database is primarily used for: not rapists, but people who nick TV’s). But this is akin to letting them strip-search people at random. And to that, I say “fuck off”.

Now, I can hear the righties already: ‘you guys just have a problem with authority. If you’ve not done anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear’. Well, it’s not just us, it’s also Crown Law and their National minister, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.

We should all have a problem with authority, especially unchecked authority. The State exists to serve us and it should be tightly controlled to make sure it serves the public interest and nothing else. We should not give powers to the Police or other organisations unless there is a good reason for doing so and good checks on the abuse of those powers. Otherwise, we are simply putting our rights and freedoms at their mercy and hoping they will always act with our best interests at heart. That’s a prescription for a Police State.

37 comments on “More powers for the cops, that’ll solve everything”

  1. Steve, you said ;
    “We should all have a problem with authority, especially unchecked authority. The State exists to serve us and it should be tightly controlled to make sure it serves the public interest and nothing else. We should not give powers to the Police or other organisations unless there is a good reason for doing so and good checks on the abuse of those powers. Otherwise, we are simply putting our rights and freedoms at their mercy and hoping they will always act with our best interests at heart. That’s a prescription for a Police State.”

    I heartily agree, we have seen the police given new laws almost every year for the last decade, a real and worrying erosion of our freedoms has been dressed up in anti terror laws, boy racer laws and other such sound bite bollix.
    I do not trust the NZ Police to safely and ethically store dna. They do not need new law, they just need to start enforcing the law we have. If we can get the cops fighting crime instead of writing tickets and inject a sense of reality into the judiciary there should be no need for any new law.
    I am bitterly disappointed that our new govt are continuing where the last one left off.

    [lprent: Bloody hell – something we agree on. In fact I’d want to start removing some of the police powers. Perhaps we should form a front? It’d provide something more useful for the police to infiltrate than their current activities seem to be doing. ]

  2. Ianmac 2

    I wonder how and where the DNA samples will be stored. The risks from cross contamination, abuse by intent or by accident must be terrifying. Fingerprints are visible tangible items. DNA samples are not in the same sense.
    (I imagine that the 300,000 antismackers will be up in arms as they will become liable for surrendering their data for the right to smack their kids.)

  3. vto 3

    and so the ever-expanding bubble of state continues…

  4. mike 4

    “to make sure it serves the public interest and nothing else”

    Well SP nothing else serves the public interest better than using all available tools to fight violent crime.

    Or are you just another liberal hand wringer going into bat for the criminals rights?

  5. Julie 5

    We’ve been debating this at The Hand Mirror too, particularly around the context of whether it would help prevent rapes. There’s some significant (but polite) differing of opinion going on.

  6. @ work 6

    See heres the problem Mike, by saying criminals, your implying they are guilty, and we are talking about before a person has been convicted, were talking about the way the police go about trying to find out if someone is guilty. If your going to start with the premise that someone has broken the law, its fairly easy to come to a conclusion that someone is a criminal.

  7. I agree too.

    Tell the line John Key is using, “…if you’ve done nothing wrong there is nothing to fear” to David Dougherty.

  8. Pat 8

    Maybe that’s the answer. Only take samples once a person is convicted, as opposed to arrested. I have no problem with a DNA database on CONVICTED criminals.

    [that’s the current law .SP]

  9. Joe Blogger 9

    We were World Leaders on womans rights,
    World Leaders on homosexual reform,
    World Leaders on Nuclear Power

    Now is the time for New Zealad to be world leaders on DNA Sampling. Don’t just test criminals test us all. Test every citizen, every imigrant and every tourist entering out country.

  10. @ work 10

    My biology is not flash at all, but some things I would like to see in a DNA data bank:

    1: External testing.

    2: DNA “readings” only kept on file, as in no bodily samples retained.

    3: Only partial records of each persons DNA kept, if there is a match with a partial sample, then it would be reasonable for someone to come in for a full sample. It’s important how ever that a “wider range” of the parts of the DNA is found at a crime scene than what the police keep as partial samples.

    4: Only taken upon conviction.

    5: Less CSI Maimi on tv, people think these days that DNA is the be all and end all.

    (ok, not so serious on the last one, but a bit of explanation would be good)

  11. Daveski 11

    In principle, I agree.

    There is an interesting philosophical aspect tho.

    The arguments for wealth distribution from the left are bugger individual rights and responsibilities, we need to consider the greater good – the collective benefits from the action.

    I understand the risks attached to the proposed DNA actions – storage, misuse etc. But the intent surely is no different – the collective benefit outweighs individual rights.

    I suppose I’m assuming there aren’t issues with capturing, storing, and analysing the DNA!

  12. the sprout 12

    Always funny how the right like to talk about rolling back the State, and guarding against a too big, too powerful State, but when it comes to increasing the coercive powers of the State to impinge on citizens’ civil liberties suddenly its carte blanche.

    I guess they just don’t like big powerful States if there’s a risk that power might be used to help the disadvantaged rather than the already priviledged.

  13. Pascal's bookie 13

    This was known about before the election. You gets what you vote for. And yes it sux. Finlayson says it’s a no good, but he’ll vote for it anyhoo. So he’s good value for money then.

  14. Lew 14

    Daveski, Sprout: How does it feel to be simultaneously making opposite sides of the same bullshit argument?


  15. Wow talk about the ultimate in Nanny State …

  16. DeeDub 16

    Yeah, except this Nanny is PACKING HEAT, baby!

  17. @ work 17

    It will be interesting to see which side of the coin DPF lands on. No doubt there will be very strong pressure from upstairs to not critisize the bill, which is what and “liberal” (if he still calls himself that) should be doing, especially considerinf apparent little flourish for human rights around the time of the EFA debate, it will be interesting to watch his logical and semantic contortions in order to justify such a move . There isnt the easy way out on this one as I’m sure it will get to big for him to stay silent on it, so which way will he go?

  18. Daveski 18


    It’s the irony of this situation. I prefer to take views on issues that have my views shaped by a position.

    It’s most likely easier to discuss with reference to the death penalty. There are some cases that are so abhorrent that I could accept the death penalty. However, based on the evidence in the state, there are so many injustices, I’d rather we not execute 99 guilty people than execute 1 non-guilty.

    In this case, if individual rights could be protected, then the greater good would likely be served by such a database.

  19. lombeer 19

    Gee, I wonder if, somewhere deep in the fine print, there will a provision stating that they can sell on your genetic information to bio-tech companies? who will then, if they find something useful, copyright it… as is supposedly happening in the good ole USA… or am I just being paranoid?

  20. @ work 20

    “Gee, I wonder if, somewhere deep in the fine print, there will a provision stating that they can sell on your genetic information to bio-tech companies? who will then, if they find something useful, copyright it as is supposedly happening in the good ole USA or am I just being paranoid?”

    I always thought copyrighting peoples DNA would be fiarly profitable, you could charge a licencing fee for every child they have.

  21. Lew 21

    Daveski: Beyond the obvious cultural and scientific problems with DNA, one problem I have is that its commonplace and frequent use will change both criminal and law-enforcement behaviour.

    1. `Organised crime’ can loosely be described as a sort of specialisation – division of labour, if you like. People who are too important to get their hands dirty (or who have too much to do) pay people who aren’t to do things for them. Establishing a chain of evidence which stretches above the lowest rung of participants in an organised crime ring is the hard bit about organised crime. Under a system like this, for a given crime DNA is both evidence and a deterrent tool – but only a deterrent to those who will be in a position to be caught. Thus, it will increase the incentive for those at the top of organised crime to separate themselves from those at the bottom. Granted, this only affects organised crime; however, that’s an area most people are concerned about.

    2. DNA is to be collected on arrest and destroyed on acquittal. What happens to it in the interim? Unless it’s embargoed in some way (and fingerprints aren’t), it can be cross-referenced against any number of other open cases, and that has genuinely mind-boggling civil liberty, surveillance and due process ramifications. We have a police force who exhibit some authoritarian tendencies already, and who are known to take decisive action on the basis of less-than-perfect information; and yet, we still don’t have an independent body to oversee their doctrine and operational procedures.


  22. Seti 22

    Will more or less crimes be resolved as a result?

    And is a mouth swab the only price we pay should the Police have sufficient evidence to charge you with a crime?

  23. Pascal's bookie 23

    And is a mouth swab the only price we pay should the Police have sufficient evidence to charge you with a crime?

    What’s wrong with getting enough evidence to get a warrant?

    Perhaps as soon as the police arrest you for any offense, they should be allowed to have the IRD give your bank accounts and records a good working over, and those of any business or trust you might involved in. Nothing to hide nothing to fear.

  24. Matthew Pilott 24

    here’s a thought – the stuff NRT was talking about made sense – a strip search, getting your door booted down – it is quite a violation. Without justified suspicion it is nothing short of harrassment.

    Does the same apply to getting a DNA sample taken, when you’re already being charged with something?

    All the stuff Lew was talking about aside (as that’s about what happens after it’s taken, not whether it’s ok to do so in the first place), and the problems with DNA itself also overlooked – does this really go against enough to make it not worth it?

    Or has crime-busting gone far enough to make the traditional ideas somewhat obsolete? Is it really a violation of privacy – does anyone really feel violated if the police have a print of all these lines of dashes that supposedly is their DNA? Especially when compared to them looking through your accounts as PB mentioned above.

    Note: the views above are not necessarily the author’s, but someone still at work and playing devil’s advocate for some time-out.

  25. daveski 25


    Happy to agree – my principled discussion was theoretical at best. If it doesn’t work in practice, it doesn’t work full stop. Hence my digression to capital punishment which is a little bit like the right taking things are little too far too quickly 🙂

    Appreciated the considered reply too.



  26. Pascal's bookie 26

    The Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Amendment Bill would allow police to forcibly take DNA from anyone arrested or intended to be charged

    The point is to go fishing. Why else?

  27. anth 27

    There was a case in Palmy recently where a guy had his DNA taken for just pinching some veges ,i read that currently you have to be given a notice if they want to take DNA and not for summary offences ,so what is the current position ,does anyone know ? thanks

  28. @ work 28

    February 12, 2009 at 8:39 am
    There was a case in Palmy recently where a guy had his DNA taken for just pinching some veges”

    They are probably acting outside the law. A few times ive heard down here in wellington younger people who have been hauled in for something and later let off for it (cause it wasnt anything in the first place) and being told to give a DNA sample or they will drum something up to charge them with

  29. Felix 29

    So as usual, the police are already abusing the power they have and expect us to grant them more.


  30. @ work 30

    Exactly. I worked in a cool store for a while, one day (when thankfully I was off sick) someone was caught stealing produce from the cool store (car boot left slightly open, manager goes and lifts it up, finds it full of stolen boxes of meat), police called, they knew exactly who did it, the owner of the car (only 20 staff on the floor anyway), he even admitted to it. Police decide to finger print every one working on the floor (no need to check those office dwellers) “Just in case”.

    Purely an exercise in increasing thier database, and I have no difficulty believing they would do the same with DNA

  31. Lew 31

    @work, Felix,

    They are probably acting outside the law.

    No use speculating. Why don’t you listen to the justification put by the police?

    Basically: there are certain crimes which, if convicted, one’s DNA can already be held on file for ever. One of those appears to be theft (or burglary, I forget which he was charged with). So the police aren’t acting outside the law, or abusing their power, they’re simply exercising their power to the letter.

    Lesson: if you grant the police more power, expect them to use it. That, to me, is a good reason not to do so except in the direst cases.


    [lprent: Like the new look. See – writing posts is good for you..]

  32. @ work 32

    Cheers Lew, fair enough, jumped the gun a bit there.

  33. Felix 33

    Lew, the key words are “if convicted” which is not what @work was describing at all.

  34. RedLogix 34

    Last year when I first heard about the Nats proposing this DNA legislation I tried a little experiment on RW several colleauges.

    In passing at smoko when they were ranting on as usual about the Helen Clark’s nanny-PC, fascist state I told them how even I was not too happy about Labour’s plans to introduce new legislation to give the Police power to sample DNA from everyone they arrest. Well you should of heard the reaction, how it was going the be the end of democracy, and how NZ was heading to be the most oppressive open air prison in all history…. blah, blah. They were genuinely upset about the prospect.

    Now I’m wondering exactly how to break it to them that its was actually their beloved National Party that was planning to do this all along. I guess if I ask them, it will probably be all ok because after all it is National that is doing it.

  35. Felix 35


    Please do let us know how that goes.

  36. Rex Widerstrom 36

    Most of what I’d say has already been said, particularly by Lew:

    …if you grant the police more power, expect them to use it. That, to me, is a good reason not to do so except in the direst cases.

    To which I’d add… “and misuse it”.

    After all, if they’ll plant bullet casings and the odd bag of drugs, a handy store of DNA will do wonders to improve the clean-up rate (and get a few annoying protesters banged up and out of the way).

    I’m hoping (and am optimistic) that RL’s workmates won’t change their stance when they find out National are behind this. Kiwis tend to be defensive of the civil rights and turn pretty ugly on those who want to take them away (as I keep proudly telling Australians, most of who seem not nearly as bothered by Mr Plod’s increasing command and control).

  37. Jum 37

    Key=Volkner, Smith’s Dream CK Stead

    It’s difficult to plant a footprint or a fingerprint or an eye print, but it’s really easy to plant a spit of DNA.

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