Coronavirus: New Zealanders arriving home asked to consent to police tracking their location

An initiative to ensure new arrivals are complying with lockdown protocol can only operate if New Zealanders consent to having their location tracked, Police Commissioner Mike Bush has announced.

The new system allows police to monitor the whereabouts of Kiwis who have returned to New Zealand amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the last 24 hours, police have made contact with roughly 4000 new arrivals, Bush confirmed during the daily press conference on Thursday.

However, the New Zealanders must give their consent before their location can be monitored by police. 

"People who arrive at the border are asked to give a contact cellular number. The first call they get is from Welfare to ensure they're okay and in suitable accommodation... within the last 24 hours, they have then received a text from [NZ Police]," Bush explained to reporters.

When an individual responds to the text with their consent, they are required to enable their mobile's location services to provide access to their whereabouts. The system then allows police to monitor their location. 

The initiative allows police to ensure that newly-returned New Zealanders are adhering to the COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown protocols and are remaining in the accommodation or property outlined in their self-isolation plan.

"All we can do is monitor their location, but they must give their consent," Bush reiterated. "We're only monitoring the people who opt in to this and it will tell us where they are at the point they text back."

The scheme proved controversial among reporters, with one asking why consent is necessary when New Zealanders who have arrived from overseas pose a high risk to the community. 

Bush says consent is imperative under the Privacy Act and police must act lawfully regardless of the circumstances. The privacy commissioner is currently being consulted on the matter. 

He also noted that people can still be monitored via phone calls and random visits if they refuse to consent to the mobile tracking.

It remains unclear if police are able to constantly access an individual's location once they give their permission, or if it only becomes available when a text is sent. 

'A high trust arrangement'

The Ministry of Health's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says allowing New Zealanders back into the country is a "high trust arrangement" that requires a level of faith in Kiwis to do the right thing. 

"We had people self-isolating who were close contacts of existing cases... that is a high trust arrangement. Police are reinforcing that arrangement by monitoring people who are coming into the country as they are at a higher risk," he explained.

"For many people, we will be trusting them to go into a self-isolation arrangement."

Dr Bloomfield reiterated the country's stringent border measures, which includes the immediate quarantine of anyone displaying symptoms as well placing people into supervised accommodation if they don't have sufficient self-isolation plans.

These New Zealanders are only permitted to leave the supervised accommodation once they have a satisfactory self-isolation arrangement to go to.

"There's been no time where there's been no checking... we're building the systems' capability to ensure we get that compliance," Bush said.

An additional 89 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Thursday, bringing New Zealand's total of confirmed and probable cases to 797.