Government seeks snoop and search powers

A Bill to give police stronger powers to snoop and search, including, in some serious crime cases, without a warrant, has been tabled in Parliament.

The Search and Surveillance Powers Bill reforms search and surveillance powers and follows a Law Commission report which described the current situation as a mess.

Justice Minister Annette King said the Bill struck a balance between citizens' freedoms and law enforcement.

It set a consistent approach to the thresholds for obtaining search and surveillance warrants; reformed the law enforcement use of surveillance devices; set more explicit powers to search computers and seize electronic data; and set up new production and monitoring orders and examination orders for law enforcement agencies.

"There are many problems with the existing law, with core police powers, many enacted more than 50 years ago, scattered around the statute book," she said.

"The law has failed to keep pace with technology."

For example, there is no law for using visual surveillance devices.

Changes would include. -Search warrants being able to be obtained electronically or verbally, in urgent situations.

Police being able to search without a warrant if they think there is evidence there for a serious crime - punishable by 14 years jail or more - and where any delay may mean the evidence is tampered with or destroyed.

A new power for a crime scene to be set up and for an officer to have authority to ensure no evidence is destroyed while waiting for a warrant.

Police being able to detain a person at a place where a search is being done.

Powers to copy documents, take photographs or recordings during searches.

Specific powers for enforcement officers to access and copy material held on computers or data storage devices and the ability to remotely access computer data in certain limited circumstances.

Warrants for surveillance devices - except in some urgent situations - and the ability to enter property and vehicles to install or remove devices.

Police being able to use production orders to require a person to give information about evidence.

Police having an examination power which would require people to answer questions.

However, a person could refuse to answer self-incriminating questions.

The Serious Fraud Office has the power to compel answers but the office is being wound up and the new Organised and Financial Crime Agency New Zealand (Ofcanz) has been set up within police to take on its work.

Ms King said the new agency would get 35 more staff, bringing its total to 58.

She said there were 40 police organised crime units around the country made up of 234 staff in total.

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