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Committee Disregards Concern About Email Snooping

Committee Disregards Concern About Email Snooping Bill

22 July 2001

Green Police spokesperson Keith Locke has criticised the report of the Law and Order Select Committee for disregarding public concern about giving police and intelligence agencies to right to intercept emails and hack into people's computers.

Mr Locke represented the Greens during hearings of the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 6), but without a vote because he is not a regular member of the committee.

"Despite the many privacy issues raised in public submissions, the committee simply bought the government line that the new powers would improve crime fighting and intelligence gathering," said Mr Locke.

"All the constraints I suggested, based on public submissions, were tossed out the window.

"The police provided no evidence to justify having the new power to remotely access computers. The Privacy Commissioner had pointed out that police can already look at the contents of a computer during a search of premises. The major privacy implications of allowing police to secretly access your computer were swept aside by the committee.

"The committee treated interception of emails as simply basically a modern version of mail interception, despite the evidence in submissions that electronic interception is conducted on a vastly greater scale and affects the privacy of a huge number of people.

"While the legislation does provide for some controls, thousands of messages, particularly through the Waihopai station run by the Government Communications Security Bureau, will be intercepted without a warrant.

"The key word trawling of emails and faxes, as used at Waihopai, will ensnare many innocent people, a point made by several submitters.

"The committee rejected my attempts to introduce best practice constraints from overseas, and threw out my suggestion for auditing police interception warrants, based on the procedures of the Federal Ombudsman's office in Australia.

"It also turned down my amendment to inform suspects against whom no charges are laid that their communications have been intercepted, in case it has some subsequent impact on their life. The United States FBI has such a notification procedure.

"The committee seemed anxious not to indicate any lack of trust in intelligence agencies. Rather than accept my proposal that intelligence agencies be subject to the Privacy Act provision that personal information be kept no longer than necessary, the committee has reported that this is already "current SIS policy", and recommended no change in the law.

"Why bother to have laws at all if we simply trust secret agencies to do the right thing?

"I also asked the committee to support consequential amendments to the Security Intelligence Act and the Government Communications Security Bureau Bill, currently before the House, to introduce the additional constraints currently applying to police interception warrants. This was not supported."

Mr Locke said the Committee's report is a slap in the face to the Privacy Commissioner, the Law Commission, the Council for Civil Liberties and all those other submitters concerned with the privacy concerns of the bill.

"It doesn't bode well for the future of civil liberties in New Zealand.

ENDS

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