Don’t do it NZ!
Well, I never thought I’d have to sling off at my beloved New Zealand but what the??? Has NZ taken a leaf out of the Bush Administration’s book of unwarrantless surveillance? Are NZ citizens about to become the most surveilled on Earth, taking over from the Brits?
There’s a little piece of legislation NZ’ers need to worry about – the Search and Surveillance Bill 45-1 (2009). If you want to hyperventilate, have a read of the whole Bill. If you want to be spared the discomfort of lack of breath, I’ll summarise for you. As I understand this Bill, it will:
- give increased search and surveillance powers for government agencies, other than police, who have law enforcement responsibilities. This would include agencies such as the Fisheries Ministry, the Inland Revenue Deparment, Commerce Commission, the Reserve Bank and even…wait for it…the Pork Industry Board;
- what are these increased powers I hear you ask? These agencies will have the ability to eavesdrop on phone conversations, hack into computers and use hidden cameras to watch every move you make. This will include the power to use tracking devices without a person knowing they are being tracked.
I’ll pause here. A good friend of mine joked the other day that I have the sort of suspicious mind that might lead me to suspect that pot plants are listening into my conversation. She was of course joking (I think). But reading this Bill, it would seem that an NZ agency could indeed place an eavesdropping device into a pot plant. Now, I do wonder what on earth the Fisheries and Pork Industry dudes would be doing – do they plan to use the goldfish in people’s homes to eavesdrop or farm pigs?
Joking aside this Bill has been slammed by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the NZ Privacy Commissioner. The word “chilling” has been used to describe this Bill.
Let’s look further:
- on my reading of the Bill, non-state agencies (such as fisheries, conservation or labour) will be able to conduct warrantless surveillance or compel a person to answer questions or handover computer access codes (clause 125(4)(a). To require NZ citizens to answer questions is the removal of the right to silence and a total invasion of civil liberties;
- unfair searches and seizures could be conducted;
- these agencies will have the power to detain anyone at the scene of a search.
I don’t see much in the way of safeguards or accountability built into this Bill. For example, once remote accessing of your computer has taken place or you’ve been tracked by video camera for days on end, is there a requirement that the agency in question inform you that surveillance has taken place and has finished? Doesn’t seem so.
When I come back from Taiwan, I plan to look into this further. I’m concerned that, particularly with computer searches, there are muddy waters – and this could lead to mixing up private data with evidentiary data.
Clause 57 has me fretting also. It deals with obtaining residual warrants for surveillance. Section 3 of the Bill defines a surveillance device as:
(a) an interception device;
(b) a tracking device;
(c) a visual surveillance device
So residual warrants cover surveillance that is not of a visual, electronic or tracking nature. Clause 57 goes on to say that a law enforcement agency, if they wish to use a surveillance technique, procedure, or activity other than that defined in Section 3 must obtain a residual warrant. As I read it, the technique, procedure or activity could include covert entry into a private citizen’s home.
I don’t have many NZ readers. Most of my readers are from the US and Americans well know the sort of warrantless surveillance crap and threats to democracy and civil liberties that have been slung at them by Bush and his croneys. I hope that NZ citizens kick up a stink about this Bill. I believe that it was met with such criticism that it won’t potentially become law until May 2010. I just hope it doesn’t sail through Parliament.
If you know more, leave a comment.
Image credit: Tumeke!