29 Sep 2011

Human Rights Commission joins critics of surveillance bill

5:39 pm on 29 September 2011

The Human Rights Commission has warned Parliament the Government's police surveillance legislation could result in legal challenges at the Human Rights Committee in Geneva.

A parliamentary select committee has on Thursday concluded its public hearings on the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill, which the Government intends to pass under urgency.

The bill is in response to a Supreme Court ruling that the use of hidden cameras in an operation that culminated in police raids in Urewera in 2007 was illegal. The legislation allows police to resume using covert filming.

The Justice and Electoral select committee has now begun deliberations on the legislation and has until Monday to report back to Parliament. The Government intends to pass the bill under urgency next week.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford told MPs on Thursday the commission accepts the need to change the law for the future, but said retrospective legislation offends a basic principle of justice.

Mr Rutherford said lawyers for defendents affected under the proposed surveillance legislation may be able to go directly to the Human Rights Committee in Geneva, and a series of such cases could damage New Zealand's reputation as a leader in human rights.

He told MPs that, under the Evidence Act, the courts already have the discretion to allow illegal evidence to be used in cases of serious offending.

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff says covert filming is a significant intrusion into someone's privacy and should be specifically authorised by a warrant, issued by a judge.

Ms Shroff recommended that the select committee develop an interim regime to apply while a permanent fix is arranged.

MPs told of surveillance 'privacy violation'

A woman whose sister and two brothers were arrested in the Urewera raids told MPs they should consider third party rights in allowing police to use hidden video cameras.

Lucy Bailey broke down as she told the select committee she felt stressed and violated after being caught up in a secret camera investigation.

"I don't think that people understand the stress that being surveilled puts you under, and when you're a third party the feeling that somebody might be watching you or listening to your conversations is a real violation of your right to privacy."

Police said in their submission that the current state of the law is putting lives at risk, because the recent Supreme Court ruling on surveillance has forced them to switch off cameras in 13 investigations.