Police to be given additional powers in missing persons enquiries
In order to speed up investigations for missing persons, the police will soon able to request information that may contain clues as to their whereabouts. This will include information on debit card and mobile phone usage, use of public transport, and may even extend to check-in details provided by airlines and CCTV footage of locations where missing persons are suspected to have been. At present, the police have too few resources at their disposal to mount a rapid and effective response.
This is outlined in draft legislation submitted to the House of Representatives by the Minister of Security and Justice, Stef Blok, for which internet consultation began today. The purpose of this proposal is to grant the police and the public prosecutor specific investigative powers, especially in the crucial early stages of an investigation. During that phase, effective action taken by the police can potentially save lives. In addition, any relatives of the missing person(s) will be left in a state of uncertainty about their fate for a shorter period of time.
Urgent missing persons enquiries
The powers in question would only be used in urgent missing persons enquiries. Examples include persons who pose a danger to themselves or who find themselves in immediate danger, such as persons with suicidal intent, or elderly people suffering from dementia. At the time a missing person is reported, it is sometimes not yet clear if that person has gone missing as a result of a crime. It is, however, crucial that this should be established as soon as possible. This category includes adolescent minors, for example, as well as vulnerable people with a mental disability.
The use of these investigative powers must be necessary and proportionate to locating the missing person. The public prosecutor or the examining magistrate play a key role regarding any police powers that may infringe upon aspects of privacy. The new investigative powers will not be used if the missing person has left of their own volition or has been the victim of a crime. In the latter case, the ordinary investigation rules under criminal law will apply.
In addition to requesting information, the police may also conduct a search of the vehicle of a missing person if it is found in a car park. They may also obtain entry to the home of a missing person living alone, in order to locate a passport or a personal journal. The police may also investigate an abandoned mobile phone, a laptop or a USB flash drive. The purpose of such an investigation will always be to locate the missing person using the clues that are found. If the missing person has taken their phone with them, then the police will also be able to ascertain their whereabouts using the location data transmitted by the phone via a data network, or place a tap on the missing person’s phone. This will allow police to determine whether any applications are still active on the mobile phone.