Quite gratifying to read the Editorial in this morning's NZHerald -
New Zealanders stand to lose some hard-won freedoms under a bill moving largely under the radar through Parliament.
The Search and Surveillance Bill will remove an important civil liberty and expand state liberties for authorities ranging from the police to the Department of Internal Affairs.
The right to silence will fall to a new coercive power, the examination order, forcing people alleged to have knowledge of fraud or organised crime to talk to the police.
Another innovation, the production order, allows police to demand that innocent individuals or organisations hand over materials that might or might not relate to an offence carrying penalties of five or seven years' minimum jail.
Failure to comply would automatically attract a penalty of up to $40,000 or imprisonment.
And the bill gives authorities an invitation to force the news media to reveal confidential sources, threatening the public airing of some of the country's most important, and uncomfortable, news stories.
There is a danger that the media's right to protect confidential sources - a privilege recognised in the Evidence Act 2006 and qualified only by a judge's decision that public interest might outweigh confidentiality - will be subverted by police access to examination and production orders.
Search warrants cannot make individuals talk. Once any agency has new powers it inevitably deploys them to save itself time or scrutiny.
That matters for the public. Important revelations of wrongdoing by criminals, business or political leaders and, crucially, investigating authorities themselves are invariably from confidential sources.
News is, by one definition, something that someone, somewhere, does not want made public.
It is not just the removal of the right to silence. It goes well beyond the removal of media confidentiality.
Also included are the right to use information obtained in a search to initiate other prosecutions against people not directly involved in the initial investigation. The allowance of "fortuitous evidence" or "fortuitous discovery" is open to obvious misuse.
There is also the right to search on suspicion and without warrant any person "associated" with a serious crime. That could mean individual investors in SCF being tapped, simply because they had invested in a failed investment company. "Fortuitous discovery" of totally unrelated evidence resulting from that tapping could be used for related charges.
Among all of this there is no protection given to the innocent if the Police, SFO, Dog Police, Drug Police or Thought Police use their powers in error, or in breach of what little would remain of personal rights of the individual.
To fully understand this Bill, we need to go back to its origins. There is no question in my mind it is the child of the Police's complete fuck-up of the Ruatoria raids, the inability of the SFO to effectively decode investment scams (despite already having some of the powers contained in the SAS Bill), the Kahui case ...
This Bill is a grotesque mistake. If this government wants to survive the next election it must withdraw the Bill immediately and bury it deep enough in Karori Cemetery that it never sees the light of day again. Anyone wanting election in 2011 must have the repeal of this Act (if it does survive and get passed) as its first priority.