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NZ police delete unlawfully taken photos, but biometric privacy concerns remain

NZ police delete unlawfully taken photos, but biometric privacy concerns remain

New Zealand police said they have deleted 11,000 photo files after an official inquiry earlier this month calling for their deletion on the bases that they were unlawfully taken.

The original investigation, started by Radio New Zealand (RNZ) last year and carried out by the Privacy Commission and Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), concluded the practices to be unlawful (particularly when taking photos of young people) and that policies and training had been lacking for years.

For instance, for roughly 15 years, police forces have taken photos and finger biometric scans of young people in custody, including young Māori. Although unlawful, the practice had allegedly become a training requirement for new officers.

As reported by Radio New Zealand (RNZ), the police forces in the country are now moving forward to enact the inquiry’s measures.

Initially, law enforcement said they had deleted 6000 photos under the compliance notice from the Privacy Commissioner but later confirmed the deleted 6390 records had 11,092 attachments that could have been photos.

Further, police officials would now be in the process of searching for and deleting photos held not in the national intelligence system but on officers’ smartphones.

“The taking of dual biometric data from persons in custody, both photographs and fingerprints, has ceased, and the ongoing compliance with this will be assured through the audits from December,” RNZ reports.

Although the measures explained in the compliance notice issued nine months ago are now being enacted, police forces remain partially skeptical regarding whether some of the scrutinized practices were unlawful.

“We have complied with the notice issued to us but, as I say, we don’t necessarily accept entirely the implications of the report we received,” Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told RNZ earlier this month.

Further, Coster also said that complying with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) notice was translating into staff reporting “significant challenges around detecting and resolving crime, particularly involving young people,” and that the police force is going to be taking further legal advice on the matter.

For context, the compliance notice does not apply to the biometric data of adults, only young people. When asked why that was the case, the OPC told RNZ it had other priorities.

“The compliance notice has a specific focus on the photographing and duplicate fingerprinting of young people, and the use of mobile phones to photograph adults in custody.”

NZ police to access CCTV footage from private firms

Beyond officers taking photos of suspects in person, law enforcement in NZ has also recently tapped into surveillance camera networks owned by two private companies.

The cameras, which can red car number plates, are privately owned, which makes it harder to keep police liable for privacy breaches, according to a new investigation by RNZ.

Further, the probe suggests Official Information Act (OIA) documents indicate police have been intending to expand the use of number plate recognition as well as storing the data for longer.

NZ police have now officially published new rules, which define how law enforcement can ask other entities for footage, including a legally justifiable reason and record of what they intend to do with it.

The move is perhaps indicative of a wider trend, with Australia, Israel, and South Korea all recently exploring the potential of CCTV for biometric surveillance.

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