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Privacy Commissioner On Mobil Phones In Prison


Members of Parliament should hesitate before accepting novel recommendations of the Select Committee which will enable prison officers to intercept mobile telephone calls.

The recommendation of the Justice and Law Reform Committee appears to anticipate problems about the use of mobile phones without having publicly explored other means for dealing with the problem. The Committee should inquire into the state of prison security which allows access to hidden cellphones in prisons and seek technological solutions which do not involve eavesdropping on calls made or received by people in the vicinity of a prison.

For instance the people of Epsom and Mt Eden may have their mobile calls arbitrarily scanned by a prison officer. Will motorists on the southern motorway also risk being overheard by prison officers? It appears that this monitoring will take place only on a haphazard basis without the controls imposed by the bill in respect of landline calls made out of prisons by inmates. (In the case of those calls a centralised system will cover all prisons and calls will be properly recorded.)

This proposal is an extraordinary departure in a free society where judicial warrants are mandatory for interception of private communications by the police. Without such warrants prison officers may, in the search for secret mobile calls from within prisons, be given access to millions of telephone calls being made by citizens in the normal course of their business each year. This state intrusion appears to be an enthusiastic extension of the bill by Members of Parliament without time for public debate shortly before an election. The matter is not one that requires immediate attention. The Committee recommendations in this respect ought to be dropped until there has been adequate time for investigation and consideration of them and alternatives canvassed.

These provisions were not put out for public submissions. It is quite wrong to rush them through without adequate scrutiny.


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