7 Dec 2010

Labour calls for SIS hearings to be held in public

11:15 pm on 7 December 2010

The Labour Party is calling for hearings on new legislation for the Security Intelligence Service to be held in public.

Legislation updating the SIS's powers of search and surveillance will be passed by early next year, in time for the Rugby World Cup.

Members of the public can submit their views to a Parliamentary Select Committee considering the bill, but all hearings will be held in secret.

Labour leader Phil Goff says there's no good reason why the hearings can't be held in public.

Prime Minister John Key says he supports submissions on the bill being publicly released, if they don't compromise national security, but he says previous Governments also held hearings into security legislation in private.

The main areas of change cover the use of electronic tracking devices, computer surveillance and technology such as cell phones and cyber identities.

Rugby World Cup 'an excuse'

The Greens say the biggest security issue for the Rugby World Cup will be drunken rugby fans and the Government has overstated the threat to justify the legislation.

Mr Key, who is the minister in charge of the SIS, says the law needs updating and the Rugby World Cup is just one factor in the introduction of the bill.

Mr Key says the right legislation for national security needs to be in place for such a major sporting event given the possibility of world leaders attending.

However, he says the changes are a modernisation of leglislation that has been in place for 40 years, to bring it in line with the use of electronic equipment and the type of surveillance now used.

Threshold for warrants still high, says PM

The bill will allow the SIS to apply for a warrant to carry out specific activities, such as computer hacking, in the name of national security.

The SIS will also be able to apply for a warrant for electronic tracking, which the present regime does not specifically provide for, though other agencies such as police have had this covered.

Mr Key says the high threshold for obtaining a warrant has not changed, and he does not expect an increase in the 11 - 15 domestic warrants issued each year.