Police try to assume people’s online identities

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The New Zealand Bar Association and the Auckland District Law Society have written to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster, expressing their concern about police trying to assume people’s online identities. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Police are trying to assume the online identities of suspects and defendants by taking over their social media and email accounts to gather information.

Defence lawyers concerned about their young and vulnerable clients alerted RNZ to a form the police are using, titled ‘Consent to Assume Online Internet Identity’.

The form asks people to sign away their social media and email accounts, allowing the police to “take control of and use my internet online identities”.

Those signing the document are asked to provide the passwords so that police can access the accounts and use the information stored on them.

“I consent to the use of my online identity and accounts for any purpose relating to an official investigation by the New Zealand Police,” the form says.

Those signing the form “relinquish all present and future claims to the use of these accounts” and are told police will change their passwords so they no longer have access.

The New Zealand Bar Association and the Auckland District Law Society have written to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster, expressing their concern about police trying to assume people’s online identities.

“Given the nature of the form and the concerns it raises, we are hoping for an urgent response,” Queen’s Counsel James Rapley said.

Rapley, the chair of the New Zealand Bar Association’s Criminal Committee, said he would wait for Coster’s response before commenting further.

Marie Dhyrberg

Marie Dyhrberg. Photo: SUPPLIED

Auckland District Law Society president Marie Dyhrberg QC has also put her name to the concerns expressed to the Police Commissioner.

Defence lawyers contacted RNZ after one discovered the form by chance while working on a client’s file.

Criminal Bar Association president Fiona Guy Kidd said she was also concerned about the police tactic.

“It is often very vulnerable people who are being asked to sign these.”

Police were asking for broad and open-ended access to social media accounts which contained large amounts of personal information, she said.

“It allows them to pretend to be that person,” she said. “Do people actually understand what this is permitting? Do people understand they have a right to say no. What advice are they getting?”

Guy Kidd said while the form asks for consent, that had to be seen in the context of the power dynamic between police and a suspect or defendant.

“It could well come in a situation where a young person is being interviewed about their part in a crime and that is a high pressure situation.”

Police said they would respond in an interview with RNZ’s Morning Report today.

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