Regional | Chris Hipkins

Law change to allow police to photograph youth not likely 'at the moment' - Hipkins

Chris Hipkins says conversations between police and the privacy commissioner are ironing out the issues. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

By Hamish Cardwell, RNZ

The prime minister does not expect there will need to be a law change to allow police to continue to photograph and take fingerprints of young people, after fierce criticism by two watchdogs in a joint review.

An investigation by the Privacy Commission and the Independent Police Conduct Authority in September last year found police were routinely and illegally photographing and filming young people and adults with little cause, collecting tens of thousands of photos with few systems and controls.

It prompted then police minister, now Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, to muse in front of a room full of officers at the annual Police Association conference in October 2022 about possible legislative changes to allow certain practices to continue.

Hipkins said he would not take off the table "the potential for Parliament to take further action to support the police".

RNZ this week asked Hipkins whether plans had progressed since.

"Some of the practices police were previously using ... they should not have been using," he said.

"But the concern was that the report may have gone too far and therefore stopped police doing what is there core day-to-day work.

"The conversations between the police and the privacy commissioner I think are ironing out those issues.

"And at the moment it looks like we are not going to make a law change in order to get back to a sensible position."

Police said they have now stopped indiscriminate photography of young people in public, and have made a number of changes to policy, training and procedure in the wake of the joint-inquiry.

But police also said it did not accept all of the findings of the inquiry, saying some would hamper police's ability to effectively investigate and prevent crime.

RNZ this week reported police have now asked Crown Law to weigh in on whether the watchdogs were interpreting the law correctly.

That was despite police's own lawyers questioning whether the practice was "helpful to policing generally".

The lawyers also said it probably breached United Nations protections for children.

Their advice came from an internal police report from May 2021, obtained by RNZ, which makes clear police rules never allowed for officers to stop and photograph young people, but officers were doing it anyway.