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.

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS -

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

123RF

Drones are use­ful to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties mon­i­tor­ing re­mote ar­eas, but the Pri­vacy Act ap­plies.

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