Opposition parties say New Zealand has been turned into a “police state” after Parliament last night narrowly passed the Government’s controversial Search and Surveillance Bill.
Parliament last night passed by the Bill by 61 votes to 57.
It was opposed by all Opposition parties and the Government’s support partner the Maori Party.
Greens MP Stefan Browning said the legislation put the powers exercised by police in its heavily criticised 2007 so-called “terror raids” in Ruatoki in the hands of many government agencies.
Those raids led to the trial of the Urewera Four, who a jury this week failed to reach a verdict on the police’s case they were part of an organised criminal group.
Browning told Parliament the law went too far.
“The evils of the Bill go to looking at people’s texts, their voice mails, bugs in cars, chat room videos.”
Thousands of innocent people could have their communications caught up in electronic monitoring, Browning said.
Mana Party leader Hone Harawira said 70 different government agencies could obtain surveillance warrants based on suspicion a crime could be committed.
“This Bill goes way beyond what they have in Europe, in Canada and even in the US.”
If someone was detained under the Bill, enforcement officers could search a person’s workplaces and friends, he told Parliament.
“You don’t have to be guilty of anything, you don’t even have to be to be arrested. You only have to be detained.”
Mana opposed the Bill because it led to a “police state”.
“Where the liberties and freedoms most of us now enjoy will disappear, where the powers of the police will be extended without the approval of the judiciary, where the powers of government agencies will assume more authority that the rights of ordinary New Zealanders and where there will be an assumption of guilt not only on an alleged offender but on anyone who knows that person.
“Where enforcement officers can bug your granddaughter’s phone, install a hidden camera in your daughter’s bathroom, download the files from your wife’s computer and steal your files without even having to prove a crime has been or will be committed.”
Justice Minister Judith Collins said the new law brought “order, certainty, clarity and consistency” to “messy, unclear and outdated” laws.
There were a number of safeguards in the legislation to balance law enforcement and investigation powers with human rights values.
“We have achieved the right balance between the need for effective and modern search and surveillance powers, and protecting the rights of citizens.”
The legislation was originally debated before the last election but concern about its wide-reaching powers saw it sent back to be redrafted.
A temporary “fix-it” law had been put in place until mid-April.
Collins said some of the law’s provision’s would come into effect on April 18 so the expiry of the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Act 2011 did not endanger ongoing investigations using covert video surveillance.
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