Police failing leaves a shadow of a doubt

20:59, Feb 22 2013

Our big read last Saturday looked at the digital invasion in our primary schools and told how new entrants were using tablets.

The Government has rolled out a billion-dollar ultra-fast broadband package that will get schools up to speed. Tablets are already in use in new-entrant classes but parents who own iPhones can already testify to the fact that even preschoolers seem to take to digital like ducks to water.

So it was disturbing to hear an Invercargill lawyer make the point that hidden information in electronic documents released by police and now in the hands of people facing drugs charges could have been found by a child.

The case in question is a major one. Police say they are targeting large-scale commercial growers in Queenstown and Southland and have levelled more than 100 charges at five men.

But, following a request to make files available to the defence, it was revealed blacked out information in the digital documents could be exposed with just three mouse clicks. As a consequence, the names of police informers in Operation Canary were effectively given to the defendants, prompting police to go back to court to ask for their files back.

One defendant has told the Southland Times: "I'm not interested in revenge on any of these informants or anything, but this information can definitely be used in my defence."


It should be noted police say they do not think the privacy or safety of any individual has been compromised. But that will be cold comfort to anyone who had provided information thinking it would not be immediately traced back to them.

Regardless of that, those people have been betrayed by a digital blunder and that is shocking.

It also underlines the stark contrast in those who have and those who do not have the digital knowledge.

The case has embarrassed police, but also highlighted a potential problem for any organisations - public or private - which handle sensitive information.

The fact is that when people provide private information about themselves or others, and they do so many times every week, that information is likely to be held on a digital file - be it in a bank, a court, a retail store or a doctor's surgery.

Where the information could once only be passed on by word of mouth or physically, it now requires just a few keystrokes.

That's hardly news. The fact that the holders of that information are not aware of how those files can be searched is.

We hope police are proven right and the owners of those blacked out names do not suffer consequences of being identified. We also hope there will be some pretty thorough digital revision work around the country.

One other thing, on the subject of haves and the have-nots. While we get boy band Titanium, and are regularly told we have the best venue this side of the black stump, the likes of America, Bachman & Turner, Pat Benatar, The Manhattan Transfer, Barry Gibb and Carole King are performing elsewhere in New Zealand this month.

Taranaki Daily News