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Surveillance Bill Goes Too Far, Select Committee Told

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Oct 22 NZPA - Lawyers and human rights advocates have spoken out against a government bill giving police and other law enforcement agencies greater search and surveillance powers.

Parliament's justice and electoral select committee is considering the Search and Surveillance Bill which is based on a 2007 Law Commission report.

The committee today heard more than a dozen submissions from organisations including the Human Rights Commission, Law Society, Police and Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party.

Many submissions objected to the increased search and surveillance powers for government agencies, other than police, who have law enforcement responsibilities. These would include agencies such as the Fisheries Ministry.

The increased powers included the ability to hack into computers to retrieve information and compel people to answer questions.

Search and surveillance were "significant" powers that needed to be balanced and the committee should consider whether some agencies needed such powers, Human Rights Commission spokeswoman Sylvia Bell said.

The community had "considerable trust and respect" for police but that would not translate to other agencies, she said.

"Most of these other agencies the community as a whole would not be aware of."

Ralph Simpson, of law firm Bell Gully, said the agencies were not equipped or qualified to carry out surveillance.

It raised concerns about the circumstances in which the powers would be used and "eroded the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure", he said.

New Zealand Law Society spokesman Andy Nicholls said the bill was an unnecessary standardisation of power.

"This bill wasn't driven by a groundswell of concern that agencies didn't have enough power," he said.

A "one size fits all" approach would not work, he said.

Police Association vice-president Chris Chaiall said he had not "closely studied" the effects of widespread search and surveillance powers but overseas examples showed it "normally doesn't work".

"It makes sense to me to have clear areas, and duplication usually doesn't help," he said.

Police had well-established (search and surveillance) systems that other organisations lacked, he said.

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