Privacy Commissioner takes action against police practices of photographing people


Police are facing enforcement actions from the Privacy Commissioner for breach of obligations regarding officers who photograph people.

The findings of an investigation into the photography issue are expected this month.

RNZ revealed in December 2020 that officers in Wairarapa were unlawfully taking photos of young Māori.

Subsequent reporting by Te Aniwa Hurihanganui, who is now with TVNZ, suggests the practice is more widespread.

The findings of an investigation by police and privacy watchdogs into the case were expected much earlier this year and are due sometime this month.

In the meantime, RNZ has asked the police and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) if the Commissioner has issued a compliance statement, or some other form of legal action.

Last night, the police admitted that the OPC had done so in December of last year.

In a statement, Deputy Commissioner Jevon McSkimming said police became aware of the problem in Wairarapa in late 2020 and began work to improve practices regarding the capture and storage of youth photos.

Nevertheless, the OPC issued a statement of compliance to the police a year later.

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“Work related to the announcement has already started and will continue to be shaped in consultation with the office,” said McSkimming.

In response to questions from RNZ about whether an injunction had been issued, the OPC declined to say it was unable to comment at this time.

“We are in the final stages of preparing our joint report with the IPCA for publication, including legal consultations with the police. We expect the report to be released later this month.

“Out of respect for all people affected by this issue and in order to view our findings in full context, we will wait for our full report to be available before commenting further.”

What is a compliance statement?

A compliance statement can be issued if the statutory auditor believes there has been a violation of the Privacy Act or a code of conduct, or if privacy systems are inadequate.

It requires the agency to reinstate the violation, and if it doesn’t comply, it can file enforcement actions with the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

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Failure to comply with a court order is a criminal offense and if prosecuted can be fined.

The Commissioner may decide whether it is in the public interest to publish details of a compliance notice, including the identity of the body involved.

Research report ‘before the end of the month’

The joint investigation by the two watchdogs and an internal police investigation have been launched following RNZ’s report and results were initially expected late last year.

TUSEN Police Conduct Authority and the Privacy Commission have been investigating police practices regarding people being photographed (not just juveniles) who have not been apprehended or suspected of committing a criminal offence.

The IPCA said yesterday it expected the report to be released before the end of the month.

According to the legal obligations, the draft report of the joint investigation has been sent to the police for comment.

“After considering any police submissions, we will finalize and release the report.”

The police’s own internal report is ready and has been with the IPCA and the Privacy Commission since the end of January.

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Meanwhile, the police have tightened up the rules for officers who photograph young people.

Further incidents sparked a wider watchdog investigation

The IPCA and OPC investigation, announced in December 2020, initially covered the practice of photographing young people, but its scope was subsequently extended to all members of the public.

In March 2021, the watchdogs said police told them not long after they began their investigation that there had been a similar situation in 2014 in Whanganui, where officers were photographing young Māori.

The watchdogs also described another incident in Northland in 2019, in which officers illegally detained a woman and invaded her privacy by photographing her and her partner at a checkpoint.

Police also admitted to RNZ that they had illegally used roadblocks to gather intelligence for years.

Police said officers acted with the best of intentions and were unaware it was illegal.

However, a year before the Northland incident, the IPCA told police that using overland traffic stops for intelligence gathering was illegal.



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