13 Nov 2019

Terrorism bill an 'obnoxious' piece of legislation - privacy commissioner

1:24 pm on 13 November 2019

The privacy commissioner is recommending a bill that prepares for the potential return of foreign fighters from Syria does not proceed.

John Edwards, The Privacy Commissioner at the select committee.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards at the select committee meeting. Photo: RNZ / Charlie Dreaver

The Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill would give police the power to apply for a High Court control order for New Zealanders who have been involved in terrorist activities overseas.

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee heard the Privacy Commissioner John Edwards give a scathing review of the bill.

In his written submission Mr Edwards considered the bill unnecessary, given the tools already available to the law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

"If agencies do not have enough evidence to take a criminal case, the remedy is to gather more evidence, not to reduce the standard of proof required to achieve penal sanctions and restrict individuals' liberties without due process," he stated.

He told the committee the bill was an "obnoxious" piece of legislation.

Through the bill, a control order could enable the electronic monitoring of a person's movements, restrict their access to the internet, prohibit associations with specific people or places, or require the person to report regularly to the police.

Mr Edwards was unhappy about the effects this could have on the rights of individuals.

"This bill represents an extraordinary and unprecedented intrusion on individual's rights to privacy and liberty. It is in my view an affront to the principals of due process and the principals on which our criminal justice system are based," he said.

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Justice Minister Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Justice Minister Andrew Little said Mr Edwards' recommendation to drop the bill was not going to happen.

"We've introduced a control orders bill for a very good reason.

"There is a very real risk of people who have gone to Syria in particular to conduct violence and extremism and who are now facing the very real prospect of having to leave the country and being entitled to come back to New Zealand, and we need to have the means to respond to that," he said.

Mr Little said the current legal system was not geared up to deal with a situation where people for ideological, religious, or other reasons went to combat zones for extremist activity.

"These are extraordinary circumstances, these are exceptional circumstances and sadly we need an exceptional law to deal with it and that's what this law does," he said.

He said if someone posed a risk to the community there would be an obligation to reduce that risk, even if it encroached on privacy.

The Select Committee will report back with its findings in December.

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