Councils in bed with Big Brother
A civil liberties advocate says real-time monitoring by local authorities runs the risk of turning New Zealand into a surveillance state. Andre Chumko reports.
Councils across the country are becoming more and more Big Brother-like in the name of consent-issuing research.
Gisborne District Council investigated how real-time satellite imagery could reveal compliance breaches.
It concluded the technology was not yet mature or costeffective enough but other local councils, including Auckland, Dunedin and Wellington, indicate they are interested in the technology when it comes available.
A Dunedin City Council spokesperson said there ‘‘could be value in having real-time satellite imagery/Google Earth for compliance work’’.
‘‘For example, if a complaint had been received regarding illegal building work we could view the imagery before sending out a compliance officer.’’
Auckland and Dunedin already use Google Earth and Street View to assist the consent process, and some use drones to monitor remote areas, but physical site visits are considered ‘‘resource intensive’’ by Local Government NZ.
New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties lawyer Michael Bott said ‘‘surveillance creep’’ was a worry and that people risked accepting being monitored ‘‘24 hours a day, seven days a week’’.
‘‘It sounds far-fetched but it isn’t, because as the technology becomes even more sophisticated, it becomes very easy to have a situation like that in China where the state has the capacity to monitor their citizens using facial recognition technology and CCTV surveillance everywhere.’’
Bott said protocols needed to be put in place, as the state would use tools if it had them.
‘‘A local body authority looking onto a ratepayer or business’ section or land/property, they can look down and see what cars are there, see who’s having a meeting at some place, they can follow it, they can look at activities on the land, whereas in the past they’d have to make a time and booking and have to send around a council employee.’’
The Privacy Commissioner’s Office said because real-time technology wasn’t operational, it couldn’t comment on a hypothetical situation.
New Zealand Security Association chief executive Gary Morrison said Google Earth was a powerful tool.
‘‘[It] has significant benefits for organisations such as councils, however there is a need to understand how the use may impact on the privacy of other parties and to ensure compliance with all applicable legislation,’’ Morrison said.
Risks were primarily around privacy matters and the unauthorised use of data gained from using the technology, he said.
Under Civil Aviation Rules, consent is required to fly a drone over private property. The Privacy Act states people must be aware if the images are being used for information-collecting purposes.
The Privacy Act applies if the drone operator is an agency, including councils.
Intrusive filming may breach other laws, including sections of the Crimes Act.
A local body authority . . . can look down and see what cars are there, see who’s having a meeting at some place, they can follow it, they can look at activities on the land. Michael Bott, New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties, right
Drones are useful to local authorities monitoring remote areas, but the Privacy Act applies.