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Fears new surveillance law too powerful

Published: 8:42AM Friday March 23, 2012 Source: ONE News

"Worrying" new surveillance laws give too many agencies the power to carry out search warrants, a civil liberties advocate says.

The controversial search and surveillance bill passed through Parliament last night.

It allows more government agencies to carry out surveillance operations, changes the right to silence and allows judges to decide whether journalists can protect their sources or not.

Thomas Beagle from the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties told TV ONE's Breakfast the changes represent a dangerous invasion of privacy.

"It's worrying those powers are being extended. We're not saying there shouldn't be search and surveillance, we're saying it should be limited and controlled and the minimal necessary," he said.

"(The Bill) extends power for several different groups, including police, and does it in blanket way."

Beagle agreed that police should be able to carry out searches in controlled circumstances but said it was "pretty odd" that other agencies like city councils and animal control boards should be allowed the same powers.

The new law also gives more people the ability to issue search warrants.

"While we believe that a judge should be able to give a search warrant, the new law says a judge or a GP or a registrar or anyone else approved by the Attorney General can issue search warrants, and I find that to be a little bit outrageous," said Beagle.

Cries of "police state" rang out across parliament last night as the contentious Bill was passed.

But Justice Minister Judith Collins said it was about time the new law came into force.

Collins said the Act brings "order, certainty, clarity and consistency" to "messy, unclear and outdated search and surveillance laws".

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

Collins said some provisions in the Act will come into force by April 18 when the temporary Video Camera Surveillance Act expires. The temporary act was put in place after the courts threw out charges against most of those accused after 2007's Urewera raids because surveillance footage was obtained by police illegally.

The bill passed 61 votes to 57, with National, Act and United Future MPs supporting it.