Draconian identification powers for police sneak into New Zealand law

, posted: 28-Dec-2008 13:12

Big Brother PosterLance Wiggs reads stuff very carefully, and noticed an NZPA story in the NZ Herald, about criminals giving fake names to avoid facing the music when apprehended. The story appears to have originated at the Sunday Star Times, and been regurgitated as-is by the NZPA and the NZ Herald. 

At first reading, it seems reasonable enough: it won't be as easy as before to hide behind others if you're caught by the police. From now on, police will be able to identify anyone, through fingerprinting, even if they're not arrested for a crime.

In other words, the law change is there to protect the innocent. It should make it harder to impersonate someone else, and let that person take the rap for your dirty deeds.

As Lance pointed out on Twitter though, being fingerprinted for minor offences without being arrested isn't exactly peanuts. Next time you're caught going too fast, you might be fingerprinted. In fact, any time a cop looks at you askance, you could have your prints taken. 

What will happen to the prints? Presumably, they'll be digitised and entered into a database somewhere or otherwise there wouldn't be any point in taking them. What will the database be used for? Did we ask our MPs to do this? 

Was it even necessary to introduce such a law change? No, not according to the article. The people impersonating others have all been caught and been punished. Auckland University law professor Scott Optican says it's a "pretty self-defeating position" to give out false names because you're very likely to be caught and it's not worth the risk.

Police itself don't seem to think the problem is out of control, and the Justice Department doesn't even record instances of how many people were convicted using false identities.

So why do it then? Perhaps the real reason isn't so much to protect the innocent as the article suggests, but to establish a nationwide fingerprint database on the sly instead. That seems to be the real story.

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