Round-up: Search & Surveillance Bill

A round-up of what people are saying about the latest version of the Search & Surveillance Bill.

The report of the Justice & Electoral Select Committee claims that major changes have been made to the Bill since the poorly received earlier versions:

When the bill was referred to us, we noted there was considerable disquiet from the public about the powers it would confer on enforcement officers, particularly those working for non-police agencies.

The overwhelming message we received was that the bill as introduced did not strike the correct balance between the competing values of law enforcement and human rights and that greater protection of civil liberties was needed. Therefore we have significantly redrafted this bill.

The report includes a minority view by Keith Locke of the Green Party, who while supporting the amendments don't believe they go far enough:

The Green Party is worried about moves in the direction of a surveillance State contained in this bill, with all its provisions for visual and audio surveillance, tracking people, and intercepting their communications. ... The advance of digital technology means that all the mentioned forms of surveillance are now cheaper and easier for the agencies to use, and the targets of surveillance are less likely to find out.

Perhaps the most offensive surveillance warrant is the one allowing State agents to trespass a home and install a covert video camera in a family's private space. Serious criminality is not so rampant in this country as to justify such an extreme intrusion on people's privacy.

In summary, the Green Party does not believe the supporters of this bill have explained why, at this point in our nation's history, we need to give such extra powers to Police and other State agencies, and in the process erode hard-won civil liberties.

Labour also include a minority view in the Select Committee's report, agreeing with most of the Bill but opposing extending production and examination orders from the SFO to the rest of the Police:

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is currently the only State agency with the power to issue examination orders and production orders. The SFO has taken to using those powers too frequently, rather than relying upon conventional investigation techniques and warranted searches in all but exceptional cases where the use of these orders is justified. This is an example of how when extra powers are given to an arm of the State that agency can utilise them more frequently than Parliament intended.

Unless further restrictions on the use of such power for both the SFO and the police are agreed by the Government, we will oppose this extension of powers to the police.

A NZ Herald editorial points out that the Search & Surveillance Bill takes away hard-won freedoms:

No changes this important should be made simply to make the state's job easier. Any assumption that authorities know best and the innocent have nothing to fear have a fug of authoritarianism about them. They sit poorly with a Justice Minister and Government nominally in favour of the rights of the individual.

Jonathan Temm, President of the Law Society is also concerned about the removal of the right to silence:

We believe the right to silence is an important fundamental legal right, and any time there is an erosion of that right, it has to be on very strict and balanced terms. You need to do that in a controlled and balanced way and not just part of a kneejerk populist reaction because you think it's worth votes.

Michael Bott, human rights lawyer points out the downside of removing the right to silence:

The right to silence exists because historically the state abused its coercive power to extract information, which was often unreliable. (paraphrase)

The EPMU argues against provisions forcing journalists to hand over documents and reveal the identity of sources. These powers are currently only available to the Serious Fraud Office and were recently used against the National Business Review and are extended to all Police by the Search & Surveillance Bill.

If we don't protect the freedom and independence of the media from state agencies then we are no better than dictatorships and other abusers of citizens' democratic freedoms.


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