Liberty Watch – January 2012

Round-up of civil liberty news for January 2012.


PM admits changes at airports possible

Prime Minister John Key has been in talk with his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard about the disclosure of criminal records. Key said further work was needed to improve the exchange of information, and indicated the present system of voluntary disclosure of criminal records on immigration cards could be reviewed.

New Zealand and Australia will carry out a six-month trial in Queensland to investigate ways of disclosing the records of convicted criminals.

New Zealand Herald 30/1/12


The numbers of those jailed at home increases

The numbers of New Zealand criminals being locked up in their homes rather than jailed is increasing rapidly.  There was a 34.5 per cent jump in home detention sentences between 2009 and 2010 and a 52 per cent increase in people sentenced to community detention.

Taranaki Daily News 30/1/12



Human rights concerns raised after family barred from flat

A dispute between an apartment owner and a body corporate has led to a complaint being laid with the Human Rights Commission after the owner was denied permission to rent his flat to parents with young children.

The dispute has raised questions about the strengths of body corporates, and the rights of parents and their dependent children.

The apartment owner complained to the commission on the grounds of discrimination against family status, and Human Rights Commission mediator Pele Walker said

"On the face of it, if the prospective tenants are two adults who have responsibility for a child/children, for them to be denied the tenancy because of that responsibility would likely amount to the adults being discriminated against on the grounds of their family status [that of responsible parents].

"While there may be a body corporate rule that no more than two adults can occupy one apartment, that rule, in itself, would not override the unlawful discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act." 7/1/12


Banned for not being a man

When a woman tried to enter her home brew in a competition at Lake Hayes A&P Show in Queenstown, she was told it was a "blokes only" contest.

A Human Rights Commission representative said: "On the face of it, the competition may be breaching the Human Rights Act, but in the absence of a complaint and full details of the competition, the commission is unable to comment any further."

The lady involved said she had no intention of complaining to the commission.

New Zealand Herald 13/1/12



Internet piracy notices lacking details

The Recording Industry Association (Rianz) began asking internet providers to issue infringement notices to people it believed were illegally downloading music through peer-to-peer file sharing sites in November.

The law gives the Copyright Tribunal the power to fine internet pirates up to $15,000 after they have received three written warnings.

However, an infringement notice issued by state-owned internet provider Orcon and was posted online by lobby group Tech Liberty is missing information required by the act.

The legislation stipulates warnings must set out the time each infringement occurred, down to the second, and name the file-sharing application or network used to pirate the work, as well describe the nature of the work and type of breach alleged to have occurred.

None of that information was included in the notice issued by Orcon.

Dominion Post 10/1/12



Contents of broadcasts close to an election

In a break from its usual hands-off approach, NZ on Air wants to stop broadcasters screening documentaries on political issues in the lead-up to an election.

The broadcasting funding agency has obtained legal advice on whether it can include a condition for broadcasters “not to screen programmes discussing topics likely to be an election issue” before an election.

The step was prompted by TV3 screening a child poverty documentary four days before the November election, and has been described by commentators as “heavy-handed” and worrying.

Bryan Bruce the programme maker said, “I think we are on very dangerous ground if New Zealand on Air takes the view that some people ought not to be heard because it would be inconvenient or embarrassing or it might actually just make people think in a different way. I think that would be not just sad but quite dangerous, we would be on a slippery slope to a very controlled environment.”

New Zealand Herald 18/1/12


New Zealand's media freedom ranking drops

In its annual press freedom index, advocacy group Reporters Without Borders ranked New Zealand 13th in the world for media freedom last year – down five places from eighth in 2010.

The report did not say what was behind the fall, but it comes after a year in which newsrooms were searched by police, the New Zealand Herald was temporarily banned from the parliamentary press gallery, and a proposed new law sought to give police greater powers to enter newsrooms.

Otago Daily Times 26/1/12



Food bill ‘threatens bake sales’

There has been growing unease over the contents of the Food Bill, which updates the Food Act 1981. Its main purpose is to ensure that the food people buy is safe to eat, but a Facebook petition that says the bill “will seriously impede initiatives like community gardens, food co-ops, heritage seed banks, farmers markets, bake sales, and roadside fruit & vegetable stalls” had attracted more than 27,000 signatures in the past four months.

Aside from the legitimate concerns over ways in which the bill makes it easier for food conglomerates to increase their control over the industry, risks to propagation seeds and, there are concerns around civil liberties.  Specifically the bill empowers food-safety officers to enter any premises without a search warrant and use “any force that is reasonable” if they fear an offence is being committed.  They do have to give oral or written notice, but not if that “would defeat the purpose of the exercise”, a determination that appears to be left to their discretion.

The bill also has an extraordinary clause regarding how the food-safety officer will decide whether food on premises is for sale or for an individual’s own use. The food will presumed to be in the person’s possession for the purpose of sale for human consumption until the contrary is proved.

New Zealand Herald 9/1/12


Crimes Amendment Act (No 3)

A law amendment will make it easier for police to lock up online sexual predators.

From March, police can pretend to be a person under the age of 16 in order to arrest older people grooming them.  Previously, if a police officer was impersonating an underage child, it might not have been an offence for someone else to make sexual advances on them.

The Crimes Amendment Act (No 3) was passed last year to strengthen the ability of agencies to “hold individuals to account for harming the most vulnerable in our community”.  As well as making it easier to prosecute people grooming underage girls and boys, it will also allow police to charge everyone in a household with failing to protect a child.

Otago Daily Times 25/1/12



Police admit shooting could have caused explosion

Police have admitted there was a serious risk of explosion when a man wielding an LPG cylinder leaking flammable gas was pepper-sprayed, Tasered and shot by police.

Guidelines issued by Taser International explicitly warn not to use Tasers when flammable substances are present because of a risk of explosion.

LPG and pepper spray are both flammable.  In British tests, two of seven mannequins that had been sprayed with pepper spray caught fire when Tasered, and in both cases, the flames produced were severe and engulfed the entire top half of the mannequin.

New Zealand Herald 23/1/12


Police kept ID secret claim backed by photos

Police officers arresting Occupy protesters in Auckland this were wearing identical badge numbers, leading to claims from protesters that it was a deliberate attempt to ensure they couldn't be identified.

Protesters claimed this morning that up to four officers in Aotea Square were wearing the same badge number – Z557. Photographic evidence backs those claims, with one photograph showing two officers wearing the same number.

Officers must wear identification badges to help be identified by members of the public complaining about or praising police actions.

Police confirmed three officers will be investigated for an alleged breach of a policy which requires each officer to wear their own identification number.

Otago Daily Times  23/1/12



Court published euthanasia campaigner's home address online

A euthanasia campaigner is furious the court published his home detention address online, opening him up to an attack from vigilantes.

Scientist Sean Davison was sentenced to five months' home detention after he had helped his terminally ill mother kill herself by helping her to drink water containing crushed morphine tablets.

Last weekend, a brick with a death threat attached was hurled through his window.

He sought the court's approval to move to another friend's house, but that friend has backed out after probation officers said they couldn't guarantee that her address would be kept private.

Davison said anyone with internet access could have found his address, after a detailed Dunedin High Court judgment containing his address was published online.

New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties spokesman Batch Hales said courts had no right to publish home addresses in general, and not in contentious cases like Davison's.

New Zealand Herald 22/1/12



Teens report ethnic bias in treatment

Hundreds of teenagers, questioned in a recent survey, said they felt they had been unfairly treated by police and health professionals because of their ethnicity.

The questions, part of a nationwide survey of more than 9000 high school pupils, found that more than 400 Maori, Pacific and Asian pupils felt they had been discriminated against by the professionals. Another 900 were unsure whether they had been treated unfairly by either police or health professionals. Europeans of high school age reported very little discrimination by either profession.

The findings were consistent with another survey taken five years earlier. 29/1/12



Auckland Council violated bill of rights claim protestors

Auckland Council violated the bill of rights in a bid to side-step the due process of the courts, when they hired contractors to illegally confiscate the possessions of protestors occupying areas of central Auckland, advises legal council for Occupy Auckland. Protestors were being required to sign agreements restricting their future right to assemble before their property will be released to them.

The Bill of Rights guarantees all New Zealand citizens the right to peaceful assembly and the right to protest. Auckland Council and Occupy Auckland protestors were still awaiting a decision from the court regarding Occupy Auckland’s appeal of the initial court decision in late 2011 that the protestors must decamp, but footage posted on Youtube and the Occupy Auckland website appears to show that the police and agents appointed by the Council violated due process on Monday 23 January and again on Thursday 26 January. Protestors were seen being dragged out of the occupation, handcuffed and detained without being read their rights or told why they are being restrained. 26/1/12