Spy bill fast track faces criticism

Proposed powers for spies to set up video surveillance in New Zealanders' homes without a warrant have come under fire on the first day of hearings for urgent counter-terrorism law changes.

The Law Society, the Privacy Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission all expressed deep reservations to a select committee about some of the counter-terrorism measures, which they said went well beyond any current powers.

Law Society spokesman Sir Geoffrey Palmer said the bill contained some safeguards which protected against abuse of the new powers.

"But nevertheless, it is the view of the society that some of the provisions in the bill substantially interfere with and reduce human rights and individual liberty."

Sir Geoffrey urged the committee to strengthen the test for warrantless surveillance of terrorism suspects and limit warrantless surveillance to 24 hours instead of 48 hours.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said a provision to allow video surveillance of a private property for up to 12 months with a warrant was "quite extraordinary and qualitatively different" to current powers.

"It is far more than going into a house and uplifting a series of documents or property. It is far more intrusive and comprehensive than dipping in and out of a telephone communication or checking on someone's internet access.

"It is there, it is on all the time, it is recording matters of considerable intimate and private behaviour."

Mr Edwards recommended that the default period for surveillance should be cut to three months.

The fast-tracking of the bill was as controversial as its contents.

The window for public submissions was two days, and the committee was required to report back on Tuesday. It will be passed before the end of the year.

The use of urgency was described as a "disgrace" by National's coalition partner the Maori Party, and was slammed by most submitters.

The Law Society said rushed law-making usually resulted in bad law-making: "It is highly undesirable to pass legislation of this nature under urgency."

The Minister in Charge of Intelligence Services Chris Finlayson was criticised by Labour for saying a full submission process, or a "six-month chit-chat", was not required because only a handful of narrow changes needed to be considered. He later apologised in Parliament for the comment, saying it was "uncharacteristically flippant".

Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford told the committee the law changes alone were not enough to stamp out extremism.

He said Government needed to develop a long-term plan to engage with communities in order to prevent the marginalisation which led to radicalisation.

By Isaac Davison of the New Zealand Herald

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