Melbourne is using pop-up police spy stations to find people breaking COVID rules – what does the law say?


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Rick Sarre, University of South Australia

CCTV cameras mounted on vans have recently been seen in public parks around Melbourne, ostensibly to nab anyone breaking lockdown rules. They are part of a joint initiative between several Melbourne councils, Victoria Police and the Commonwealth government.

Coming on the back of Victorian police arresting and charging a number of people for inciting others to break bans on public gatherings by protesting in the streets, there is likely to be widespread resentment to the presence of these mobile surveillance units.

Many people are already claiming the Victorian government has once again over-stepped the mark in its aggressive approach to suppressing COVID-19.

These mobile units are not new, though. They were introduced in 2018 to help combat crime. They are not cheap, either. The cost to purchase and operate four of the units has been estimated at $3.6 million.

But what are the laws around public surveillance of people going about their daily business or recreational activities outdoors?

Let me tackle this question by posing four related questions:

  • are the cameras legal?

  • are such surveillance tools effective?

  • are these measures acceptable in a vibrant democracy?

  • what protections should be put in place?




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Are the cameras legal?

It needs to be stated at the outset the Constitution does not include any specific rights related to privacy. And the High Court suggested two decades ago that privacy was unlikely to be protected under common law.

The Victorian Charter of Human Rights, however, contains a provision that states people have the right not to have their

privacy unlawfully or arbitrarily interfered with.

But a lawfully installed camera designed to deter offending would not, on its face, defy the terms of the charter.

International law, too, provides some privacy protections. In 1991, Australia signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states

no one should be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy.

However, Australian parliaments have introduced few laws to enshrine these protections. The legislation that has been enacted has largely been limited to curtailing the use of privately monitored listening and surveillance devices and preventing governments and big business from sharing citizens’ private information.

The Australian Law Reform Commission has issued clarion calls to extend these protections in recent years, but these efforts continue to gather dust.




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So, it should not be surprising that mobile CCTV cameras driven to and stationed in public places are perfectly legal.

Moreover, so-called “unmanned airborne vehicles” (UAVs), more commonly known as drones, are regularly deployed by police for surveillance purposes, too.

Both of these surveillance tools are backed by regulatory force at all three levels of government.

Police have been patrolling parks for weeks to ensure compliance with the Stage 4 lockdown regulations.
ERIK ANDERSON/AP

Are these surveillance tools effective?

Proponents of these mobile surveillance units argue the perceived risks to privacy and heavy investment are worth it, given the social disorder they prevent and the help they provide police in solving crimes.

However, there is much research now that casts doubt on this assumption.

In one study in 2009, for instance, CCTV cameras were only found to reduce crime by 16% overall (and by only 7% in city and town centres and public housing communities).

The efficacy of these surveillance units in a health emergency has yet to be proven. The cameras would seem to be most useful in providing police with information regarding who is using the parks, and perhaps providing something of a deterrent to those who might consider breaching lockdown restrictions, but not much more.

Are these measures acceptable?

Yes and no. On the one hand, there is no doubt people want the coronavirus restrictions to end. And if these units deter people from breaking lockdown rules, and this, in turn, helps bring the new case numbers down more quickly, people may accept the intrusion in their lives.

On the other hand, some are understandably alarmed at the increasing use of surveillance tools by authorities — dubbed “uberveillance” by sociologists.




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Even advocates for civil liberties appear ambivalent about the curtailment of some basic rights during the pandemic.

Liberty Victoria President Julian Burnside, who has been a fierce defender of privacy rights, surprised many by telling The Age,

It all sounds pretty sensible to me. … We are in a war against the coronavirus, and when you’re in a war with anything, restrictions on your otherwise normal liberties are justifiable.

Liberty Victoria quickly sought to distance itself from the comments.

What protections should be put in place?

There is no doubt parliaments are the most appropriate bodies to determine the extent to which individuals can be subjected to lawful public surveillance.

Indeed, former High Court judge Michael Kirby argues the legislative arm of government needs to step up to the task of scrutinising emergency powers with more vigour.

Otherwise it simply becomes a tame servant of the executive, which is a common weakness of parliamentary democracies of the Westminster system.

But parliaments will only respond if citizens demand this of them, and there are very few signs of that at the moment.

In the meantime, there are a number of legal tweaks that should be undertaken to ensure the government’s spying on the public domain is appropriately measured:

  1. we need to ensure the images and other data that are collected by surveillance units are stored appropriately and discarded quickly when no longer needed

  2. we need to be able to hold police and other surveillance operators to account for any excesses in the manner in which images are gathered and shared

  3. there needs to be a new legal remedy in the event there is a serious invasion of privacy by the inappropriate use or disclosure of images collected by surveillance devices.

True, we have the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner constantly reminding governments of the concerns associated with threats to privacy.

But without civic push-back, little will change. Parliamentarians are unlikely to limit the powers of the executive to allow mobile surveillance units to be parked in public places unless it becomes politically unpopular. One can but wonder when this tipping point may be reached.The Conversation

Rick Sarre, Emeritus Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: why police will be crucial players in the battle against coronavirus



AAP/Dean Lewins

Terry Goldsworthy, Bond University and Robyn Lincoln, Bond University

As coronavirus continues to affect all aspects of life, law enforcement agencies are playing a more pivotal role in enforcing new health and social regulations while ensuring society continues to function in a civil manner.

So why is law enforcement important in our battle against COVID-19, and what role will it play?

Police help contain the virus

Several Australian police services have set up dedicated resources to assist in containing the virus. These include major incident rooms and operations and specific new taskforces.

Victoria has established a 500-strong contingent to compel the closure of all but essential services. As well as the shutdown measures, police and authorised officers will be enforcing mandatory self-isolation periods for anyone entering Victoria from overseas. Under Victoria’s state of emergency, breaking quarantine conditions carries fines of up to A$20,000 for individuals and nearly A$100,000 for businesses.

NSW police can impose on-the-spot fines to enforce social distancing.

In New South Wales, police have been required to limit large gatherings in public and restrict access to beaches, removing swimmers and surfers where necessary.

The state government this week granted police enhanced powers to enforce public health orders relating to COVID-19. This includes the power to arrest people breaching their quarantine. Police will be able to compel suspected COVID-19 cases to remain in isolation. The bill will:

allow a police officer to arrest a person who the officer reasonably suspects of contravening a public health order in relation to COVID-19 and returning the person to their usual place of residence or their place of detention.

NSW Police at Bondi Pavilion after state officials closed the beach.
MATRIXPICTURES.COM.AU

In conducting similar checks, Victoria Police discovered seven people were not self-isolating as required during spot checks this week.

Such enforcement activity brings with it a unique set of problems. Reports this week indicated up to 200 Victorian police staff are already in quarantine. Concerns were raised about a lack of protective equipment for officers. The powerful Police Association wants a state of disaster declared to free up police to act with greater efficiency and additional powers.




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In Queensland, police recruits have been fast-tracked through the academy to provide extra personnel. In addition, Operation Sierra Linnet was launched, a multi-agency taskforce that will ensure compliance with restrictions for all pubs, registered and licensed clubs, gyms, indoor sporting venues, casinos and night clubs.

From midnight Wednesday this week Queensland police have been harnessing their random roadside breath-testing skills to curtail non-approved border crossings.

What impact might coronavirus have on crime?

While police are being asked to extend their range of duties into our everyday activities, in other areas they are pulling back from traditional roles. For example, Queensland police have stopped static random breath test sites because of coronavirus fears.

It is probable police will respond to essential call-outs only, as has happened in some other countries. Even then response times might be longer than before.

We should not be concerned that fewer uniformed police will have an impact on public safety – it is common for police to exercise largely peacekeeping functions. This was highlighted in the Kansas City Patrol Experiment in the 1970s, which found formal police patrols did not impact on crime rates or community fear of crime.

As a consequence of the virus, we have seen criminal elements attempt to take advantage of emerging markets. In the UK, police arrested men who had allegedly stolen toilet paper and hand wash. In Sydney, two men threatened staff with a knife while trying to steal toilet paper.

The strain on our social cohesion is showing, with fights erupting between shoppers as they try to obtain items now in short supply.

In response, the prime minister this week announced his government was creating a new offence to target people hoarding essential goods in an effort to prevent price gouging and exports of products needed to reduce the spread of coronavirus. He said:

These measures will help prevent individuals purchasing goods including face masks, hand sanitiser and vital medicines and either reselling them at significant mark-ups or exporting them overseas in bulk, which prevents these goods from reaching people who need them in Australia.

It isn’t only New York that has two-hour wait queues for firearms and ammunitionconsumers are stocking up on ammunition here as well.

What does the future hold?

Trying to predict crime transformations due to coronavirus is difficult. It is likely there will be surges in some crime categories and reductions in others due to conditions created by the crisis.

“Break and enter” offences in private dwellings will probably decline under a widespread lockdown that keeps people in their homes. Alcohol-fuelled violence in public spaces is certain to drop significantly with the closures of pubs, clubs, casinos and restaurants. However, domestic violence incidents are predicted to rise over time, with interpersonal tensions in restricted living arrangements.




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Given the uncertainty and the ever-changing situation facing us all, policing needs to be agile and flexible in its response to the needs of society and the demands of governments.

Our law enforcement agencies will perform a critical role in combating the virus and ensuring public safety.The Conversation

Terry Goldsworthy, Associate Professor in Criminology, Bond University and Robyn Lincoln, Assistant Professor, Criminology, Bond University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Vietnam: Persecution News Update


The link below is to an article reporting on the beating of a Christian couple by police for refusing to recant their faith.

For more visit:
http://www.persecution.org/2013/07/01/vietnamese-police-attack-christian-couple-for-refusal-to-recant-faith-2/