This is a guest post by Megan Lawton, lawyer, former CEO of the Law Society NT and member of Making Justice Work. She is based in Darwin at VIVID Advice 

Is it just lazy policing or just an overreach of police powers?

In the Northern Territory there is a prohibition on publication of information regarding youth subject to the Youth Justice Act.

But, and this is a very big but, there is a specific exception for police exercising police powers: see Youth Justice Act s214(2).

In other words police may be able to post images and names of alleged youth offenders if it is done in the performance of his or her duties.

Was that the case here?

A question arises when the posted images of youth are on social media and then those images are re-posted, by well-meaning concerned citizens. Not to mention the barrage of sometimes hateful comments about their families and many things about which the commentators know little if anything.

For everyone else the re-posting of those images is not exempt from the offence provisions in the Youth Justice Act. So by posting images on Facebook the police are almost inviting people to re-post the images.

There are many reasons why naming and shaming youth offenders is not a good idea, particularly where they are only alleged offenders. Social media is unforgiving and unforgetting. The image of a child aged 11 years has a long future ahead of it. In addition to addressing any alleged offending, they now have to deal with the stigma. No amount of new schools or new names will be able to reintegrate them into the community.

It does not make my community safer. All it guarantees is that these boys will only ever have a place at the margins, education, career will be difficult for them – they will feel disconnected and shunned by a whole community that passed judgment on their family and them without knowing anything other than their face and their names.

Is it not time the NT legislation was amended to reflect the privacy principles below? How long will we allow this to go on? How long will we condone (by our silence) the barrage of offensive comments that spring up around these posts? Horrible and inhumane.

Information Privacy Principle 2 (IPP 2) recognises that there are cases in which the interests of health, safety and security can justify use or disclosure.

They relate to:

serious and imminent threats to life, health or safety;
serious threats to public health or public safety;
investigation and reporting of suspected unlawful activity;
use or disclosure that is reasonably necessary for specific functions of a law enforcement agency;
certified requests for information from ASIO or ASIS.

Section 70 of the Information Act (NT) also allows non-compliance with the IPPs by law enforcement agencies if that is necessary for specified functions.

Surely it is now time the blanket exemption in the Youth Justice Act was amended and that the NT Police put proper controls in place over their use of social media – possibly requiring judicial approval before publishing anything that identifies a youth caught up in the juvenile justice system.

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