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October 9, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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Police Responsible for a Gross Breach of Privacy

New Zealand police have been tapping the phones of a prison abolitionist group in what its members say is a gross breach of privacy.

Three members of People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA) discovered through court documents that their communications had been intercepted by the police for an undisclosed period of time.

Permission to monitor communications was granted on November 22, 2016, after an incident between PAPA and the Department of Corrections. The three members occupied a Corrections office, chaining themselves to a desk in protest of a transgender prisoner being kept in solitary confinement. The protesters faced charges of trespassing, but were all discharged without conviction on September 28.

The police statement to the court said that any call made or received by the monitored lines was automatically recorded and stored, available to any direct investigative staff. PAPA members do not how long the phone lines were monitored, or how the information has been used.

PAPA spokesperson Emilie Rākete told VICE that the tap was a “blatant breach to the right of privacy.” She argued that those with beliefs “inconvenient” to the government are as entitled to that right as everyone else, raising questions about the legitimacy of a police investigation into groups like PAPA.

She stated, in a press release, “It demonstrates the lengths to which the police are willing to go to undermine our organisation. This is a politically motivated attack by the New Zealand Police.”

The Search and Surveillance Act, passed in 2012,  allows agencies to surveil or search a person if there are reasonable grounds to believe they had committed, or would commit, an offence. At the time the Act was passed, then Police Assistant Commissioner Malcolm Burgess did not believe it to be a significant expansion of police powers.

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