Union slams Search and Surveillance Bill
The Search and Surveillance Bill before parliament is a threat to journalistic freedom, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union has warned.
The bill has previously drawn criticism in NBR from across the spectrum, with IT specialist lawyer Rich Shera (Bill that forces ISPs to spy needs re-write) and libertarian Thomas Beagle among those to weigh in against the legislation.
The EPMU is New Zealand’s largest private sector union with about 45,000 members across eleven industry sectors, including about 1,000 journalists in print and broadcasting.
It says the bill goes too far in extending search and seizure powers to allow the police to order journalists to hand over documents and reveal the identity of their sources.
These powers were recently used by the SFO to order the production of documents in the possession of the National Business Review as part of the SFO inquiry into South Canterbury Finance.
“The EPMU shares concerns about freedom of the press and the confidentiality of sources that have been expressed by Labour and Green MPs on the Justice and Electoral Select Committee,” EPMU national secretary Andrew Little said.
“The government should withdraw the extension of examination and production orders to the police from the bill,” he said.
“The democratic principle that information gathered by journalists in the course of their duties needs to be protected from seizure by state agencies and reflected in our laws, not eroded.
“If we don't protect the freedom and independence of the media from state agencies then we are no better than dictatorships and other abusers of citizens' democratic freedoms,” he said.
The bill, which allows search and surveillance warrants to be granted to agencies such as the Food Safety Authority and the Reserve Bank, was amended by the justice select committee after a public outcry against some of its provisions.
“There was considerable disquiet from the public about the powers it would confer on enforcement officers, particularly those working for non-police agencies,” the committee said in its report.
“The overwhelming message we received was that the bill, as introduced, did not strike the correct balance between the competing values of law enforcement and human rights and that greater protection of civil liberties was needed.”
But despite improvements the bill still remains a serious threat to civil liberties, according to Green Party human rights spokesman Keith Locke.
He raised a number of concerns about the bill, including the extent of state surveillance it allows.
The most alarming provision, Mr Locke said, is one that allows police to be granted warrants to install a covert camera in people's houses.
“This is an unacceptable intrusion into people's personal space,” he said. “Privacy in one's own home should be sacrosanct.”