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Why you don’t give the State too much power

Written By: - Date published: 11:00 am, June 22nd, 2010 - 30 comments
Categories: police - Tags: ,

The Right usually argues for limited government. They fear unaccountably state agents abusing their power. It’s a justified fear. All power tends to be abused unless you have strong checks on it. Both Left and Right can usually agree on the need to keep an eye on those who are trusted with power.

But the Right seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the Police. They tend to just heap powers on the Police and trust that nothing will go wrong, despite the Police being renowned for abusing their powers. That’s what’s happening with the new DNA power. No Right Turn sums it up:

In New Zealand, they’ve recently gained the power to forcibly take DNA from anyone arrested, even if they are subsequently acquitted. But even that isn’t enough – and so our police have gone fishing. A few years ago they were harassing teenagers in routine traffic stops, demanding DNA swabs in exchange for letting them go. Now they’re intimidating Maori kids, using fear and lies to extract samples:

“I’ve heard of a few cases where young Maori have been conned by police into giving DNA samples even when they haven’t committed a crime. One young Maori told me the police wanted the sample because one of their relatives might be known to police. “Another told me the police wanted the sample in case the rangatahi got killed and the police needed to identify them.”

Harawira argues that approaching children to give DNA without their parent’s consent is outside police guidelines. its worse than that – it’s flat-out illegal. The law is very clear on this: section 30 of the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act 1995 says that

Nothing in section 30 of this Act [which specifies the administrative procedure for gaining samples by consent – I/S] applies in respect of a person who is under the age of 17 years, and no such person shall be capable of consenting to the taking of a bodily sample in response to a request made under that section.

If Harawira is correct, the police have been systematically breaking the law. And every officer who has taken such a sample is guilty of contravention of statute and liable for imprisonment for one year.

The completely unconcerned attitude of the Police hierarchy to these allegations is worrying but, unfortunately, typical. The Police should never have been given the power to take DNA off people at such a low threshold. It should be handled by an independent group and only on conviction. Letting the Police take DNA off anyone they arrest gives them too much incentive to bend the rules, and that seems to be happening.

30 comments on “Why you don’t give the State too much power”

  1. Good on Harawira for raising this issue. He is a really effective opposition MP …

  2. swimmer 2

    I suppose not much is going to happen to these officers as long as no one is holding them to account. I haven’t heard any stories on this issue!

  3. WOOF 3

    Why that just gets me hot under the collar!

  4. PK 4

    ***In New Zealand, they’ve recently gained the power to forcibly take DNA from anyone arrested, even if they are subsequently acquitted. But even that isn’t enough and so our police have gone fishing. ***

    To avoid harrassing people in this manner it would be easier & more consistent to have a routine collection at birth, which could be re-checked from time to time. Obviously the database would have to be managed by an independent body. Hopefully it would lead to a better crime clearance rate.

    • Pascal's bookie 4.1

      They could implant a GPS tracking chip thingie at the same time. If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear, etc.

      • American Gardener 4.1.1

        I imagine the resources required for microchipping & GPS tracking would be massive though perhaps it could piggyback on the existing cellular networks. Being able to identify who was in the vicinity of a crime scene during the window of occurrence would I imagine be a very useful tool. Would it be a deterrent to crime however ? I suspect not but it would simplify the apprehension of the offenders.

    • Bright Red 4.2

      Pk. That is exactly the kind of huge power that the State doesn’t need and the only real control on it is ‘trust us’. Imagine the ability to pry into your life the government would get if it had everyone’s DNA on file. The scope for abuse is massive.

    • it would be easier & more consistent to have a routine collection at birth

      They already do, but its not used by police, and not typically made available for DNA analysis

  5. sally 5

    Of course, Crusher Collins and Howard Broad has failed completely to address the substance of Hone’s comments, just focusing on the (perhaps ill-thought-out) comments about them being Nazis…

  6. deemac 6

    not a fashionable POV but I agree with PK; lets collect it routinely at birth (or on entry into the country for immigrants like me) – by a separate organisation, NOT the police. Much preferable to active surveillance like ID cards, CCTV etc which we will otherwise be pressurised into adopting in the near future.

  7. just saying 7

    And who, exactly, would appoint this “separate organisation”? not to mention who would police it?

    Nothing to hide- nothing to fear is a very dangerous fairytale.

    It’s cases like this that highlight how pathetic our Human Rights and Privacy Commissions are.

    Has the opposition had anything to say about this?

  8. Sanctuary 8

    What about giving the police the power to seize private property “on the balance of probability” test that it is the result of criminal proceeds?

    Sold to us as a “get tough on gangs measure” this new power has resulted in significant police resource being squandered on what the police themselves admit are seen as profitable low hanging fruit. So we’ve got the NZ Police basically admitting to a sorry tale of state revenue grabbing by legal terror. So far, its victims seem not to be the gangs but a garden chain and numerous small landholders who have had the temerity to fall foul of the law by growing some marijuana.

  9. American Gardener 9

    Taking DNA at birth or micro-chipping is a completely unacceptable dystopian nightmare.

    I can see how it could reduce the crime rate and make solving crimes much easier but the loss off freedom is not worth it. Collecting DNA could be used to discriminate on the basis of propensity for genetic disorders.

  10. When did the Police gain this power and what were the various parties’ voting records on it?

    @Sanctuary is right on asset forfeiture: only the Greens and Maori made a stand against that nightmare – Greens very likely because Nandor Tanczos understood how asset forfeiture works in the US.

    Shame there’s nobody in Parliament making much of a stand on civil liberties these days.

  11. Rex Widerstrom 12

    its worse than that it’s flat-out illegal… The completely unconcerned attitude of the Police hierarchy to these allegations is worrying but, unfortunately, typical.

    Private prosecution, anyone? If you’ve had your DNA taken illegally I’m sure there’s a few legal beagles who’d consider helping you with a pro bono prosecution of the Plods responsible. I’d chip in with some work and a bit of cash. Anyone?

    • Bored 12.1

      Rex, you might have opened a can of worms…scanario: I get detained and not charged, and police “request” DNA….later the DNA gets used to arrest me for some other offense. In Court I claim the Police took the DNA under duress and therefore had no right to it, nor to arrest me as a consequence (i.e that their evidence was not legally obtained therefore impermissible). Any legal types out there care to comment?

    • swimmer 13.1

      Oh that does invade your privacy and could even lead to some people being discriminated against for sharing the DNA of a crook.

      I see the commenter with the best name I’ve ever read is on that thread: Anonymous Coward 🙂

  12. just saying 14

    Just saw Goff’s response to this issue on Te Karere.

    He complained about Harawira casting aspersions on the police force in comparing these actions with nazi behaviour. That’s it – his whole response.

    Goff Must Go!!!!!!!!!

  13. Jenny 15

    Giving DNA to the police would give the police the opportunity to place that DNA where ever they liked. As the prosecution of Arthur Allen Thomas proved it would be like the police having an empty shell case of yours, to plant where ever they saw fit, and we the public trusting that the police in every circumstance would never place it somewhere, where it would incriminate an innocent person.

    What makes this worse is that the police haven’t admitted or denied that they have been gathering DNA in the way alleged by Harawira. This secrecy increases the risk of misuse.

    This abuse could have the opposite affect than that intended, by discrediting the use of DNA evidence.

    • swimmer 15.1

      Agreed. They also have no mandate to allow this to happen, there should be a referendum on this kind of thing. Not that they will listen.

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