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Dogged resistance to canine drug searches

police dog
Critics complain the use of the sniffer dogs is abusing civil rights  

By Grant Holloway

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- When the New South Wales government widened police powers to search people for drugs using sniffer dogs, civil rights groups were outraged.

But now they are using mobile technology and the Internet to fight back.

Under legislation introduced last December, NSW police no longer require a "reasonable suspicion" an individual is carrying illegal drugs to conduct a search if the person is at, or entering or leaving a "designated place".

Those designated places include: hotels and clubs, the public transport system, sporting and entertainment events and public parades.

The NSW Council of Civil Liberties has responded by setting up a web site to thwart the police use of sniffer dogs.

The anti-sniffer dog site 

One of the services it provides is a free mobile phone text-messaging system to alert subscribers when police sniffer dogs are in their area. Asia
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The site has had more than half a million hits in less than 24 hours since its launch and more than 1,000 people have registered for the SMS text service.

President of the council Cameron Murphy told CNN Wednesday there was huge support for the site, mainly from people who never take drugs but have been searched by police -- often a number of times -- under the new law.

"People are sick and tired of having their rights abused," Murphy said.

'Irresponsible stunt'

NSW Police Minister Michael Costa, who has championed the new legislation, on Tuesday night labelled the site a "stupid, irresponsible stunt", according to newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald.

He said he was seeking legal advice on whether the site could be shut down.

But Murphy said the council had received its own legal advice before establishing the site and had been advised it was doing nothing illegal.

"We are advised we are complying with the law," he said.

"All we are doing is telling people not to carry drugs and telling them where police detection operations are taking place," he said.

The site says it does not condone the use of any illegal substances.

It does, however, pass on information on how to prevent a sniffer dog from detecting drugs an individual may be carrying and details a citizen's legal rights should they be searched.


Murphy said the text system used ground-breaking technology to alert subscribers with messages received less than three seconds after a report of sniffer-dog activity is made.

How it works is subscribers designate which areas of the Sydney metropolitan area they usually socialize in, and on what days and during which hours.

A team of volunteers meanwhile agree to message the Web site's server the instant they see sniffer dogs operating.

Specially designed software at the Web site is able to receive and automatically re-route the messages to the subscribers' specifications in a matter of seconds.

Murphy said the software was designed by a programmer who was not a drug user and who had been searched by police under the new laws while standing on a railway platform.




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