5 Nov 2010

Opposition says search laws still too far-ranging

9:22 am on 5 November 2010

Opposition political parties say that even with the drastic changes proposed to search and surveillance laws, there are still major problems.

The Justice Committee wants several new safeguards included in the legislation, as well as restrictions on the use of powers it gives to government agencies.

The bill allows authorities to plant recording devices in private homes or offices and conduct remote searches of computers without the user's knowledge.

Examination orders allow police to force a person to answer questions if they have previously refused to do so, or risk a year in jail.

Productions orders compel the handing over of documents believed to be related to an offence.

The Labour Party and the Greens say they both over-ride the generally held right to silence and could also muzzle media freedom in New Zealand.

Justice committee chairman Chester Borrows says with regard to the media, that is a valid concern, and more changes may well be justified.

The Greens say while the amendments are welcome, the bill still gives far too much power to enforcement agencies and poses a serious threat to civil liberties.

'Erosion of civil rights'

Human rights lawyer, Michael Bott, says new search and surveillance laws are a major erosion of civil rights, despite some improvements.

Mr Bott says provisions forcing people to answer police questions, or hand over documents, are abhorrent, even if that would only be for serious offences.

He says the right to silence exists because historically the state abused its coercive power to extract information, which was often unreliable.