Liberty Watch – April/May 2012

Round up of civil liberty news for April/May 2012.

Round up of civil liberty news for April/May 2012.


Wellington man fights for his right to complain

A Wellington man is fighting for his right to complain after he was fined $50 last year after making one too many complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA).  It has been stated that his complaints make up nearly 5 per cent of the complaints against TV One.

Don McDonald complained about a One News story that incorrectly said Kathryn's Supernova was in a galaxy 240 light years away from Earth, when it is actually 240 million light years away.

The BSA said while the complaint did point out an inaccuracy, it was frivolous and trivial and Mr. McDonald had been warned about making such complaints in the past.

Mr. McDonald appealed that decision at the High Court, saying he has being deterred from his democratic right to complain.  The High Court overturned the fine but upheld the judgment. 2/5/12



Schools searched for drugs

Specialist teams with sniffer dogs have this week searched three regional high schools for drugs – Mount Hutt College, Ashburton College and Geraldine High School.

Mount Hutt College principal John Schreurs confirmed that a specialist company, New Zealand Detector Dogs, was hired to do a sweep of the school with dogs.  In a random search of 16 classrooms there was one bag detected to be positive, about which the school contacted the police.  No disciplinary action was taken, as the bag in question was not always being used on the school site.

In email it was revealed that the decision to search the schools was made not due to “any information received but was part of a proactive programme.”

New Zealand Detector Dogs is carrying out the searches because police were no longer willing to do searches of schools, Mr. Pitcaithly director of NZDD said.  

Ashburton Guardian 5/4/12


Call for spyware on kids' phones

During the inquest into the death of a Rotorua teenager who killed herself after getting threatening text messages, MyFone spokesperson Sally Rae gave evidence stating that if New Zealand telecommunications companies got behind an initiative, spy software could be available on all New Zealand cell phones for $200,000.

MyFone was launched in New Zealand last year. The business operates through a website that allows parents to sign up their child's cellphone number and then see any calls or texts made to and from the phone.  The site also provides a tracking service so parents can find out where their child is.

New Zealand Herald 10/4/12


Schools demand powers to search for cyber-bullies

Principals want the power to search students' cellphones and laptops to combat cyber-bullying.  Secondary Principals' Association president Patrick Walsh said, "Cyber-bullying has become so common and the consequences so serious, that it overrides privacy concerns." 

Search and seizure guidelines were developed last year to allow principals to search students for drugs and weapons, but principals want it written into law.

Sunday Star times 13/5/12



Sex offender orders 'might breach rights'

Corrections has warned the Government that new "public protection orders" for keeping dangerous sex offenders locked up beyond their original sentences could be challenged by the United Nations on human rights grounds, and that they risk breaching the Bill of Rights.

Justice Minister Judith Collins announced Cabinet had signed off on the public protection orders first proposed in November, and that she expected to introduce legislation this year.  Under the orders, some prisoners, mainly sex offenders, face being kept in purpose-built secure accommodation within prison grounds despite having served their full sentences, on the grounds they still present an unacceptably high risk to the public.

Four Australian states have enacted similar orders, and the UN Human Rights Committee has found that to breach the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Australia's federal government has yet to respond.

Sunday Star Times 13/5/12



BSA decision a victory for NORML

The Broadcasting Standards Authority has ruled in favour of NORML, the pro-cannabis campaign group, after an Australian doctor lodged a complaint against the organisation.

The BSA ruled that encouraging and promoting cannabis use on a radio show was "in the spirit of protest" and did not breach standards of law and order, adding "The programme amounted to high value speech because it is legitimate and desirable in a free democracy for individuals to challenge particular laws and promote law reform." 6/4/12



Man and family spied on by city employer

A company that launched a covert surveillance operation on a Christchurch employee and his family has been ordered to pay $7500 compensation.  The company manager, Mr. Ydgren, spent all day following the employee as he went about his duties.  Ydgren borrowed a family member's car so he would not be spotted, and kept written notes of the day, beginning: ''7.35am left home – dropped son in Rolleston''.

The Employment Relations Authority said: ''Mr. Booth and his family feel violated and victimised,'' by the surveillance.

The Press 5/4/12


Worker's privacy 'undoubtedly' breached

An employee whose personal details were leaked during an industrial dispute could seek compensation from Ports of Auckland for breaching his privacy, a law expert says.

Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson, in a letter to Maritime Union (MUNZ) secretary Russell Mayn, addresses the leaking of personal information, including details of bereavement leave, about employee Cecil Walker to the Whale Oil blog.

The blog published a list of 106 leave days under five categories taken by Mr. Walker, a crane driver, from when his former wife was diagnosed with a terminal illness in 2007 until after her death the next year

New Zealand Herald 12/4/12



Mob rejects ban on graves insignia

The Mongrel Mob is pledging to fight Porirua City Council all the way to the Supreme Court if it goes ahead with a ban on offensive insignia on headstones.

The council can dictate only the size and installation of headstones, not content, but under a new proposal, sparked by complaints about gang insignia and mottos a new rule stating "no individual monument shall cause offence" will be added

About 10 years ago the Mob replaced the words "Sieg f…in heil" with "SFH" on some new headstones.  However, the cemetery that saw a complaint emerge, Whenua Tapu, has no "SFH" tombstones, and just four with the Mongrel Mob insignia.

The gang have said they are happy to remove swear words, but taking down anything else that had previously been approved would be unlawful, disrespectful and culturally insensitive, adding that Mob membership was similar to religion and some members wished to have the gang's insignia on their headstones.

Dominion Post 2/5/12



Police teapot tape file won't be released

The police file on the teapot tape investigations is to be withheld from public view.

Following the Police decision earlier this year not to charge cameraman Bradley Ambrose over the now infamous recording of the Prime Minister and John Banks during the election campaign, Newstalk ZB sought a copy of the police case file under the Official Information Act.

Police are refusing to release any documents, citing a ruling from the Chief Ombudsman that says privacy interests in matters that aren't prosecuted are high and need a strong public interest to justify disclosure.

Police say, in this case, public interests don't outweigh privacy interests.


AOS members drinking before siege

Fourteen armed offenders squad members who responded to a hostage siege in Opunake in which a gunman was shot dead had been drinking beforehand, police have revealed.  However, none of them was the officer who shot dead the gunman.  

Assistant Commissioner operations Nick Perry said that the amount of alcohol drunk by the officers varied from a glass of wine with a meal to five pints during the previous five hours, Mr. Perry said.  "At the time of this incident the police regulations relating to the carriage and possession of firearms stated that an officer should advise his supervisor if he had consumed alcohol before returning to duty and accessing firearms," he said, adding "The regulations stated officers should not begin duty without the supervisor's approval."

The provision related to general duties officers responding to critical incidents where they would be required to carry firearms and was not intended to apply to AOS callouts, Mr. Perry said.

"It has been since identified that the policy was ambiguous in relation to armed offenders squad staff who were not on stand-by and were being recalled for duty due to emergency situations," he said.

The ambiguity had now been removed.

An employment investigation was commenced, which concluded that the officers had breached the code of conduct by consuming alcohol prior to the callout but due to the ambiguity of the regulations no sanctions were imposed.

Mr. Perry said most of the officers who responded on the night were off duty.

"Some had already worked a shift in their normal roles and were not on stand-by for armed offenders duties but made themselves available due to the nature of the situation."

Taranaki Daily News 25/5/12



Inmate wins $600 for strip search

A prisoner has been awarded $600 for being strip-searched twice in one day. 

The prisoner was strip-searched, along with every other prisoner in the high-security block, and soon after, it was decided that he could move back to his lower-security wing. While he was being transferred, the prisoner was left for a short time in a small-supervised space between the wings, called a sally port.  He was then taken into a small room and interviewed before his transfer.

The court heard that while the prisoner was being interviewed, another Corrections officer came into the interview room and was threatened by him.  The officers had to physically restrain the prisoner, moving him back to the high-security wing, where he underwent a second strip search.

The prisoner first appealed to the High Court in 2010 on a raft of accusations against the prison, including the two strip searches, adequacy of prison clothing and heating.  At that hearing, Justice Chisholm found that the first strip search undertaken was unlawful as it breached the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, section 21 of which states: ''Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure, whether of the person, property, or correspondence or otherwise.''

The second search has since found to be unlawful by Justice Chambers.  Under the Bill of Rights Act, there was no provision to search Forrest a second time, considering he had been in a supervised area of the prison, the sally port.

Justice Chambers found it was ''an unlawful search and accordingly an unlawful assault by the officers concerned".  ''The fact Mr. Forrest underwent two unlawful strip searches in the same day make this an 'exceptional case' requiring an award of compensation,'' he said.

Under the Prisoners and Victims Claims Act, the compensation would be paid to the secretary for justice, when it could be used to pay outstanding fines or compensation to victims

The Press 1/4/12


Corrections criticised over inmate's death

A coroner has strongly condemned prison systems after it took 13 minutes to respond to a prisoner who collapsed and died in her cell at Auckland Regional Women's Prison. The prisoner, died in her cell in 2008 from an undiagnosed heart condition.

At 9.33pm on November 21 the prisoner activated her cell alarm, which was answered about three to four minutes later. The woman who responded asked the prisoner twice through the alarm intercom system what her emergency was, but received no response and cancelled the alarm without taking any further action.  A Corrections officer doing a routine check then found the prisoner unconscious in her cell about 10.55pm.  Her cell door was unlocked at 11.08pm and resuscitation attempts commenced. They were unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead at the scene.

In a report into her death, Coroner Katherine Greig said the prisoner was let down on the night of her death.  Inspector of Corrections Louise MacDonald found having a system where it took 13 minutes to unlock a cell door was too long and the response timeframe in such circumstances should be no more than five minutes.

In her report today Ms Greig recommended to the chief executive of the Department of Corrections that the Prison Service set a benchmark that meets international standards.

New Zealand Herald 5/4/12


Government plans parole changes for high-risk criminals

Inmates considered unlikely to receive parole could have their hearings put off under planned law changes.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said Cabinet had agreed to introduce screening of inmates to postpone unnecessary parole hearings where an offender has "little chance of release”.  Legislation would be introduced to Parliament this year to alter the Parole Act by extending the maximum interval between parole hearings from one to two years.

The maximum postponement period for offenders serving indeterminate sentences and fixed sentences of 10 or more years would be extended from three to five years.

New Zealand Herald 17/4/12


Corrections union slams 'degrading' extended search powers in prisons

A proposal to extend strip search powers in prisons has been slammed as needless, degrading and possibly dangerous by the corrections union.

A select committee heard yesterday that procedures for searching inmates for contraband were sufficient, and removing safeguards could lead to an increase in violence.

The Corrections Amendment Bill would remove the need for officers to get permission from a prison manager before searching an inmate. Officials would also perform a more invasive procedure for all strip searches.

Corrections Association of New Zealand president Beven Hanlon said the current strip search procedure was highly successful and he did not believe corrections officers needed greater powers.  He stated that, "I'm not aware of any statistics that say we've got a problem with prisoners concealing things inside them that we're not able to find during a strip search process."

The Corrections Amendment Bill was introduced last year to remove barriers to managing prisoners and encourage efficient, cost-effective prisons.

Human Rights groups have told the committee that basic rights and dignity should not be sacrificed for these goals.

New Zealand Herald 24/5/12



You are digitally recorded 12 times a day

Surveillance cameras are now so powerful that they were able to zoom in on individual spectators at the Rugby World Cup and read their text messages.

Details of police monitoring used for the first time during the tournament were discussed at a privacy forum in Wellington, at which it was revealed that the average person is digitally recorded about a dozen times a day – and even more if they use email and social media frequently.

At the forum Civil liberties lawyer Michael Bott warned against becoming desensitised to digital surveillance.

Dominion Post 4/5/12


Accused seeks further compensation

A man once accused of being involved in underage sex may receive a second payout for damages from police after they revealed the allegations to a future employer and the Accident Compensation Corporation, causing him to lose work and accreditation.

The man, who is referred to as EFG because of a court order granting name suppression, has brought proceedings against police complaining they breached his privacy by revealing he had been accused of committing sexual acts on a minor when he lived at Centrepoint, a commune where the "removal of one's sexual limits" was encouraged.

Indecent assault charges were laid against EFG but he was later discharged at a High Court trial.

In 2002, EFG applied for a job with a counseling organisation and allowed police to disclose information about him to the organisation.  The police told the organisation that EFG had been accused of molesting two 8-year-old girls when he was living at Centrepoint. EFG then complained to the Human Rights Review Tribunal that the information police handed over was unbalanced, failed to record his denial of the claims, and failed to explain what happened at the trial, and the reasons for his discharge.

In 2006 the tribunal ruled largely in EFG's favour, ordering the police to pay $12,500 damages and restraining the police from disclosing the information in future.

However, before that decision, EFG applied in 2005 to ACC for accreditation to provide pain management and sexual abuse counseling services to ACC clients.  Police once more made the same disclosures, and ACC declined accreditation.

EFG again complained to the tribunal and the case is still ongoing, but the tribunal has ruled that EFG is able to receive more damages from the police if he can prove he suffered economic loss when the police gave information to ACC, but it ruled EFG could not get more damages for humiliation, loss of dignity and hurt feelings because he was already compensated for this at the first case.

Sunday Star Times 6/5/12


Facebook privacy fears for job applicants

The Privacy Commissioner is concerned at reports that employers are seeking access to job applicants' Facebook pages, and has fears that the overseas trend of making it a requirement for employment will catch on in New Zealand.

Commissioner Marie Shroff told MPs on the Justice and Electoral select committee that employers overseas were increasingly demanding access to Facebook pages or even a Facebook password as a condition of proceeding with a job application.

She said such cases were reported in the United States and while there was as yet no evidence of it to that extent in New Zealand, there was anecdotal evidence applicants were being asked to give access to their Facebook page.



Landlord: I want white tenants

A Fiji-Indian landlord has had his rental property listing removed by Trade Me after he described his ideal tenants as "European".  He said the television show Renters had put him off ethnic tenants.  Trade Me removed the ad after users of the site brought up the breach.

Under the Human Rights Act, it is illegal to treat someone seeking property differently based on race or sex.  The act also forbids discrimination based on whether someone has children, is married or is employed, yet several listings seek tenants who are working, single or without children.

However, Human Rights Commission spokesperson, Gilbert Wong, said the rules did not apply when looking for flatmates.  "Someone might advertise for a female flatmate. That's fine because it's about living with someone, as opposed to offering a product or service generally," Mr. Wong said.

Trade Me operations manager Mike O'Donnell said it had been two years since the last problem with racial discrimination, a property ad refusing anyone who regularly cooked ethnic food.

New Zealand Herald 16/4/12


Minorities shut out of public service

It has been alleged that Government departments, despite progress in getting women into leadership roles, are failing to promote racial diversity.

Women occupied 40 per cent of senior management positions last year, up from 33 per cent a decade ago, the figures show. However, Maori, who comprise 15 per cent of the population, held only 9.2 per cent of the roles, a decline from 9.7 per cent in 2001.  The proportion of Pacific Islanders in senior roles also fell from 1.9 per cent to 1.6 per cent, and Asian representation was up from 1.7 per cent to 1.9 per cent. The 2006 Census shows Pacific Islanders comprise 7 per cent of the population, and Asians 9 per cent.

Ethnic minorities are also likely to earn less. Pacific Islanders earn on average 19 per cent less than other employees, while Maori and Asian employees lag behind by 11 per cent.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said the situation made him feel dispirited.

Sunday Star Times 20/5/12



NZ at risk of breaching Refugee Convention obligations

The New Zealand government's introduction of changes to the Immigration Act represent a deeply concerning trend that ignores the violent and terrifying situations these people are fleeing says Amnesty International.

“Such changes show a total disregard for our country’s legal and moral responsibility to offer protection to asylum seekers and are, in fact, in breach of New Zealand’s obligations under the Refugee Convention,” says Rebecca Emery, Deputy Director at Amnesty International.  She went on to say, “It is disappointing that the Immigration Minister has used the term ‘queue jumper’, as in fact the queue is a myth, there is no queue for those who are fleeing persecution”, adding that, “People have a fundamental legal right in International and New Zealand law to seek asylum.” 30/4/12


Security Intelligence Service

Report lifts lid on SIS priorities

The Security Intelligence Service's (SIS) annual report for the year to last June says that work relating to the Rugby World Cup was given priority "at the expense of business as usual activities''.  The SIS had planned extensively for "an increased level of terrorism awareness'' during the tournament.  As well as identifying threats to national security, its duties included security vetting of 11,000 people, including caterers, bus drivers, volunteers and hotel staff, who would be close to the teams or dignitaries.

The report also included a statement on the interception warrants in use over the year, which had to be signed by Prime Minister John Key. There were 21 domestic interception warrants for an average of 143 days each, covering cellphone taps, listening devices, interception devices and copying documents.

Otago Daily Times 23/5/12



Free birth control for beneficiaries

Women on benefits, including teenagers and the daughters of beneficiaries, will be offered free long-term contraception as part of the Government's welfare reforms.  Critics, however, say the measure borders on state control of women's reproductive choices.

Sue Bradford of the Auckland Action Against Poverty Group said although it was billed as voluntary, there was a power imbalance between beneficiaries and case managers, who were under new pressure to get people back into work.  "My fear is that they will be pressured and intimidated into going along to the appointment for contraception. There are many in the church and community groups who believe that the state should not play a role in women's reproductive lives", she said.

New Zealand Herald 8/5/12