'Undemocratic' Search and Surveillance Bill made law

Labour keeps up attacks on the legislation, which maintains the Serious Fraud Office's power to demand documents from media organisations - including those that disclose the identity of confidential sources - without a warrant.

All it took was four votes for the controversial Search and Surveillance bill to be passed into law.

After the third reading of the bill yesterday afternoon, the bill will now be rubber stamped.

Justice Minister Judith Collins says the new Search and Surveillance Act 2012 brings “order, certainty, clarity and consistency” to messy, unclear and out-dated search and surveillance laws.

The Act follows a 2007 Law Commission report that recommended search and surveillance powers be consolidated and updated.

Part three of the bill, which deals with production and examination orders and directly relates to the Serious Fraud Office’s power to demand documents from media organisations without a warrant, was one of the most contentious issues debated during the committee stages of the bill.

Labour’s David Parker said the SFO’s powers should have been brought in line with the now standardised powers of the police. The SFO, like the police, should have to go to a judge to get a warrant, Mr Parker said.

“The real example lies in the raid of the National Business Review by the SFO in 2010. The National Business Review was doing its own inquiries into what had gone wrong in the South Canterbury Finance collapse.  They relied on confidential sources telling them in confidence what they knew,” he told the house on Thursday afternoon, adding that the fourth estate’s ability to shed like on irregularities was vital to maintaining democracy," Mr Parker told Parliament.

“I might not like what the media has said about me, but I will defend until my last day in this place their right to make those criticisms, because their role in keeping democracy free is far more important than my sensitivities,” he said, adding that protecting NBR’s sources from inappropriate abuse of powers by the SFO is “absolutely essential”.

“People have confidence to give NBR information in confidence because if they can’t be assured of that they clam up and the public interest is not served because these issues will not be brought to light,” he said.

New Zealand First’s Dennis O’Rourke agreed with Mr Parker.

“I have been persuaded by the arguments of the Labour party. It is simply illogical that the SFO is not included with the safe guards that are provided in this bill,” he said.

Despite the continuous calls for the SFO’s powers to be standardised with those of the police, Ms Collins refused, saying “due process” needed to be followed in order for the powers of the SFO to be changed.

In a late night sitting on Tuesday, Ms Collins acknowledged Mr Parker had written to former justice minister Simon Power, about standardising the powers of the SFO with the same powers that apply to the police, she said Mr Parker should have “followed it up”.

A resolute Ms Collins said she was not prepared to overnight, or “even over a month,” change the powers of the SFO without it having first gone to a select committee.

“We have discussed what we should do with the SFO over the powers; we have heard allegations made around alleged miss-use of the powers. The only example given to me was when the SFO served production orders on the National Business Review once last year. Just on that one issue I don’t think we should be completely changing a law that has been in place in 1990 and which, by the way, was brought in by the then Labour government to deal exactly with the issue of financial crime,” she said.

The bill also put in place a judicial process for a journalist to protect the name of a source when the police were trying to obtain that information.

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