Round up of civil liberty related news from February 2016.
More prison cells could be 'double-bunked'
Up to 130 more prison cells could be "double-bunked" to cope with an unexpected increase in the prison population, Corrections chief Ray Smith said while facing questions in a select committee about plans to cope with a record-high prison muster.
Smith said double-bunking was not new in New Zealand, around 30 percent of the prison population was double-bunked, compared to 70 to 80 percent in South Australia, and that two prisoners to a cell had not led to an increase in violence, as some critics had claimed.
Corrections were also delaying closing prisons, including Waikeria in the Waikato to cope with growing prisoner numbers.
Another 270 prison beds would be available in April following renovations at various jails.
The prison muster rose to 9360 last month, contrary to long-term forecasts of a fall in prisoners, and is expected to rise further. Although the long-term prison population was relatively stable, the remand population had grown significantly.
Otago Daily Times 17/2/16
Corrections ‘losing’ Māori inmates
Justice reform group Just Speak is accusing the Department of Corrections of under reporting the proportion of Māori in its prison muster.
Strategic advisor Kim Workman says in recent years the department has taken to using its own year-end prison census, coming up with a claim that only 50 percent of all prisoners are Māori. However, Statistics New Zealand says, based on the number of Māori sentenced to prison during the course of a year, the figure is 55.7 percent.
Mr Workman says the Salvation Army’s State of the Nation report calculates there are about 1000 more Māori in prison than a decade ago, with the rate rising sharply during 2014/15 to reach an average of 693 prisoners per 100,000 population. That’s seven times the rate of non-Māori.
Mr Workman says the old adage ‘you have to face it to fix it’ applies and Corrections needs to come clean with its ethnicity data and not leave it up to the Salvation Army to provide good information about Māori in the criminal justice system.
Banning New Zealand backpackers could breach Human Rights Act
Backpacker accommodation that refuses entry to a person based on their nationality could face legal action, a New Zealand Human Rights Commission spokeswoman has said.
A business providing goods or services, including accommodation, was required to comply with the Human Rights Act, the spokeswoman said. The business was not allowed to discriminate on any of the prohibited grounds set out in the Act, unless a statutory exception applied, she said.
She was commenting after it was reported last week that many backpacker hostels in Blenheim banned New Zealanders from staying because they were allegedly messy, aggressive and did not pay for their rooms.
Amnesty International: New Zealand needs to do more on human rights
New Zealand showed some leadership on human rights in the past year but needs to do much more, an annual report card by Amnesty International says.
The "State of the World's Human Rights" report applauded New Zealand's work on the international stage as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
It had shown "glimpses of ... leadership" by lobbying for humanitarian access to Syria and in urging permanent members to be restrained in their use of veto powers, the report said.
However, this positive work was "dampened" by the Government's decision not to raise its relatively small refugee quota. There were also concerns about asylum seekers being detained alongside remand prisoners in New Zealand’s prisons.
The report also criticised New Zealand's record on domestic violence, children's rights, privacy issues, and the over-representation of Māori in New Zealand prisons. Māori make up 51 percent of the prison muster, despite only being 15 percent of the total population.
The Report also questioned New Zealand's role in the Five Eyes international spying network. Reports in March last year, appeared to show New Zealand was spying on its Pacific neighbours on behalf of the United States.
New Zealand Herald 24/2/16; Stuff.co.nz 24/2/16
Government made 12,000 privacy requests to just 10 companies
Nearly 12,000 requests for New Zealanders personal information were made by Government agencies over three months and to just 10 companies, new research reveals.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC), has warned that more than 1000 requests were incorrectly characterised as being made under the Privacy Act, and that this could have legal consequences.
"The Privacy Act provides no mechanism for government agencies to make requests for personal information of individuals. The mischaracterisation is more than trivial and has legal consequences beyond mere linguistics," the OPC report states.
The OPC has also stressed to companies that they do not have to comply with many requests, and law enforcement agencies should make this clear. They advised that companies must decide if a clause justifies information release.
"If the company decides not to release the information without a court order then it is entirely legal for it to do so ... to avoid confusion, law enforcement agencies should consider making it clear on request forms that it is a voluntary decision for the agency being asked to accept or decline a request."
The five government agencies that made the most requests for personal information were Inland Revenue (4670 requests), Police (3513), Ministry of Social Development (3150 requests), Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (99) and Customs (73).
Requests for all information held about a person on an account, such as name, address, subscriber services, transactional information and communications, were the most common
The most frequently cited information gathering powers used by government agencies were section 17 of the Tax Administration Act (4470 requests), section 11 of the Social Security Act (3108), and production orders under section 71 of the Search and Surveillance Act (962).
New Zealand Herald 18/2/16