DNA bill raises Maori Party concerns

12:20, Nov 03 2009

The Maori Party is warning young Maori will fight back against police trying to take a DNA swab.

Parliament yesterday passed the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Amendment Bill, which will enable police to take samples from people charged with a range of serious offences, wider than the present category.

From 2011, they will be allowed to take DNA samples from anyone they intend charging with an imprisonable offence.

Consent will not be needed, and samples will be able to be taken without judicial approval.

But Maori Party MP Rahui Katene warned of the potential for trouble with young Maori men.

"They already distrust the police and (if) the police want to take a swab, they're not going to know what is going on at all," she told Radio New Zealand.

"So they are, of course, going to fight back."

Britain had the world's largest database; it held the DNA of 75 percent of young black men compared with 22 percent of white men, Ms Katene said.

She believed a similar situation could happen in New Zealand.

"They're picking up particularly young Maori guys and taking them in, whether they have reason to suspect them of having committed a crime or not," she said.

"With this, they can take DNA on suspicion basically of having committed a crime, and keep it."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei agreed Maori were more likely to suffer under the legislation.

Labour supported it but said there were concerns about how it would be implemented.

Labour MP Moana Mackey said it was vital that extra funding was made available for DNA testing through crown research institute, ESR.

National Party MP Paul Quinn said the party was comfortable safeguards were in place to ensure the bill could be safely enacted.

The DNA powers were a National Party election promise and the bill was given its first reading in February.

At that time, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson issued a report saying the bill appeared to be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act's provisions against unreasonable search and seizure.

During the third reading debate Labour MPs said they were worried about the extent of the powers that were being given to the police and MP Charles Chauvel tried to amend the bill so a judicial warrant would be needed.

The amendment was voted down and the bill was passed into law on a vote of 108 to 13, with the Greens and Maori Party opposing.


The new law will increase the pool of innocent suspects, a civil liberties group says.

Concerns have also been raised by the assistant privacy commissioner, who says the law is a move towards becoming a "genetic surveillance state".

Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Michael Bott said the changes the law brought in were a concern.


Police could charge people with a "triggering offence" for the sole chance of gaining their DNA.

"Where discretion could have been used before, now to get DNA there's a concern," he said. "It's the state abusing its power ... a watering down of those protections."

Justice Minister Simon Power said the DNA databank currently held 100,000 profiles.

"The foresight of police in storing that information, even before the technology was available to fully use it, has paid off," he said.

"This tool can do just as much for those who are innocent as those who are found guilty of a crime." Implementation of DNA sampling will be done in two stages and is expected to be completed by 2011.

The Justice Ministry forecasts that 4000 samples will be taken in the first year from next July, and a further 5000 samples will be taken in phase two – when the power to take DNA will be extended, for adults, to all imprisonable offences.

DNA samples of people not convicted will be destroyed.

Mr Bott said: "DNA isn't a magic bullet, it's increasing the pool of suspects. The more samples you get then the more suspects you get."

Assistant Privacy Commissioner Katrine Evans said she did not want to see a move towards becoming a genetic surveillance state. "We are disappointed that there is no intention to balance that expansion by establishing an independent oversight body to ensure that individuals' interests are properly protected."

She was also concerned about the eventual extension of DNA sampling to all imprisonable offences.

"We are not convinced that this additional expansion of police powers will bring a matching law enforcement benefit."


* Wilful ill-treatment of animals

* Unlawfully carrying or possessing firearms or explosives

* Receiving property worth less than $1000 (DNA can already be collected for receiving property worth more than $1000)

* Indecent act in public place, or with intent to insult or offend

* Aggravated assault and assault with intent to injure

* Male assaults female

* Cruelty to a child Assault with weapon

* Threatening acts

* Person in charge of motor vehicle causing injury or death

* Peeping or peering into a dwelling

- with NZPA

The Dominion Post