While flying into an Australian international airport recently a Customs official grabbed my immigration card, marked it and gave it back to me. Good I thought, I’m going to get passed through.
I was wrong. I was taken aside from other passengers and forced to stand in a line with about a dozen other unfortunates. Then we waited while a dog and handler was arranged and run along the line, vigorously sniffing us all as we stood there.
Nothing was found and we were told we could leave. I objected to what had happened but the Customs officers said something like “too bad you’re upset mate”.
In fact these ignorant misguided heavily uniformed power drunk thugs had just breached one of the most basic tenets of Western civilisation, being that no one who is not under suspicion of committing a crime should be stopped and searched by authorities (police, customs whoever) while going about their lawful business.
My protests along these lines to the officers concerned fell on completely deaf ears.
The NSW Greens are a generally detestable lot, but I am going to surprise my readers by saying I fully support one of their initiatives, and that is stopping the use of sniffer dogs because they are a breach of civil liberties.
Jenny Leong, the member for Newtown, has reintroduced an amendment bill to the NSW state parliament that aims to repeal the parts of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 that allow the use of drug detection dogs without warrants on public transport, at festivals and in bars.
On top of the civil liberties argument, there is the ridiculous cost of maintaining the service, and also the fact that the dogs are largely ineffective as a search device.
17,747 citizens were apprehended after being sniffed. In 11,331 of these cases, no drugs were found.
The Sniffer dog squad has cost NSW taxpayers $66 million to run over the last 5-6 years.
The NSW ombudsman recommended the immediate end of the program in a report in 2006, saying that, despite police officers’ best efforts, it had proven to be “an ineffective tool for detecting drug dealers”.
“Overwhelmingly, the use of drug detection dogs has led to public searches of individuals in which no drugs were found, or to the detection of (mostly young) adults in possession of very small amounts of cannabis for personal use.”
The Greens are unusually right on this issue. Sniffer dogs are costly and ineffective, but most importantly, they are a serious breach of civil liberties and should not be used to search innocent people going about their lawful business, in NSW streets, trains, airports or anywhere in the supposedly civilised Western world.
Any search, anywhere, any time, should be subject to a warrant.