12 Aug 2015

Spy agency powers could grow - minister

8:09 pm on 12 August 2015

The Minister responsible for the country's spy agencies does not rule out giving them greater powers once a review of them and their legislation is completed.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson

Attorney General Chris Finlayson Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Chris Finlayson said there were deficiencies in the law governing the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), for instance, which stopped it doing things it would be useful to do.

But the Green Party was worried the review being carried out by Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy would lead to both the SIS and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) being given new powers.

In Parliament, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei asked Mr Finlayson, the minister responsible for both agencies, about a statement by Prime Minister John Key that a range of deficiencies had been identified in the SIS's legislation.

"Do these deficiencies mean that the SIS is currently engaged in activities that are not authorised by the law?" Mrs Turei asked.

Mr Finlayson said no.

"The word deficiency doesn't signal necessarily a contravention of the law. It suggests the inability to do something that it would otherwise be useful to do," he said.

Metiria Turei giving her 2015 Budget Speech to the house, parliament.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Finlayson's suggestion the SIS needed more powers prompted another question from Mrs Turei.

"Will the minister rule out any expansion and extension of the SIS's current powers to spy on New Zealanders?" she asked.

Mr Finlayson was not impressed with her question.

"The term spying on New Zealanders is pejorative. What the SIS is doing is in actual fact ensuring that all New Zealanders can enjoy the liberties that they were entitled to from the day they were born.

"What I'm going to do for the benefit of the honourable member is wait until the review has been completed by Dr Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy and then I hope to be able to see legislation drafted which reflects modern conditions and is expressed in modern language."

Mrs Turei also asked the minister whether the GCSB would be given greater powers.

Mr Finlayson responded with a reference to both agencies.

"The Government has undertaken a review of all the intelligence legislation to ensure that it is up to date and that it serves, both agencies serve their core purpose of operating under the rule of law to protect and enhance the freedom of all New Zealanders and moreover any agency that has great powers must necessarily be properly supervised by Parliament and by the Inspector-General," he said.

The Green Party, and Labour, oppose giving the spy agencies any further powers.

Both also want greater scrutiny from a proper select committee representing most parties in Parliament.

Public submissions on the review close this Friday and Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy are expected to report back by February next year.

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