'Big Brother' switched off after 30 years service

The original "Big Brother" police computer was switched off at the weekend after nearly 30 years of operation.

The National Law Enforcement Data Base - better known as the Wanganui computer - began operations in 1976, allowing police, Land Transport and the justice system to share information for the first time.

For nearly 30 years, it recorded every car and gun licence, every traffic and criminal conviction, along with the personal details of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders.

The system was hugely controversial when it began, with libertarians mounting numerous protests.

A young punk anarchist was killed on November 18, 1982, apparently blown up by his own gelignite bomb, while trying to breach security at the computer centre.

The bomber, 22-year-old anarchist Neil Roberts, had the words: "THIS PUNK WONT SEE 23. NO FUTURE" tattooed across his chest.

An unsuccessful attempt to replace the system, the ill-starred Incis project, ran several years and millions of dollars over budget, and its failure resulted in a commission of inquiry.

Police began transferring all information from the Wanganui computer system, which moved to Auckland in the 1990s, to a new $20 million system - the National Intelligence Application - and that was completed at the weekend.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor, who graduated in 1977, said he and his classmates were told they were the "lucky ones", the first generation of police officers who would not have to do any paperwork.

"Well, like any computer system it actually generated more paperwork, but it certainly made us a heck of a lot more efficient," he said.

Police Deputy Commissioner Lyn Provost said the initial controversy over the Wanganui computer in the 1970s had taken several years to die down.

"It was controversial because it was the first really large computer system in New Zealand that stored personal information and there was a concept of Big Brother. Now we just presume information will be stored on computers."

Mrs Provost said the old system was past its use-by date, increasingly hard to maintain and lacked the functionality required.

She said when the Wanganui system was launched, it had filled a large, multi-storey building.

- NZPA

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