Hot on the heels of his recent High Court victory, which resulted in him enjoying a ringside seat as police smashed to pieces a hard drive containing material ruled to have been illegally seized, Nicky Hager is having another crack at the New Zealand Police.
The new proceedings were prompted by the police’s February 29 release of further documents to Mr Hager in response to a Privacy Act request he made in 2014 – but only after Police received a preliminary view from the Privacy Commissioner on a complaint made by Mr Hager.
The documents show police obtained Mr Hager’s travel information from airlines without his knowledge, using production orders obtained via applications that his lawyer, Felix Geiringer, has described in a statement as “essentially the same as the one used to obtain a warrant to raid Mr Hager’s home” – a warrant the High Court found to be “fundamentally unlawful.”
As a result, Mr Hager is requesting the court hear his new claim at the same time as proceedings related to the police accessing his bank information and a decision on an award of damages for the unlawful police raid on his house.
“What the police have done with Mr Hager’s travel information has all of the same problems that existed with the raid on his home,” Mr Geiringer says.
“The police were seeking to bypass Mr Hager’s rights to protect his sources by obtaining Mr Hager’s private information from third parties. But they did not tell the people issuing the production orders that that was what they were doing.”
An attack on journalistic privilege
Mr Geiringer says the police’s actions could do “enormous damage” to journalists’ ability to report on such issues as corruption as it undermines their ability to keep sources confidential.
“In some ways, what the police did in this case was worse than the raid on Mr Hager's home,” Mr Geiringer says. “They tried to obtain the information in secret so that Mr Hager couldn’t claim privilege over it."
Shortly after the raid on Mr Hager’s home, Mr Hager’s lawyers sent a letter to the police. In that letter, they told the police the efforts to obtain Mr Hager’s information were unlawful and that Mr Hager’s information held by third parties would also be privileged but “police did not tell that to the people issuing the travel data production orders,” Mr Geiringer says.
“Then the police unlawfully hid the facts of these searches from Mr Hager for well over a year.”
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