At the start of the month the Police acquired a range of new powers:
New police search and surveillance law in force
New police search and surveillance laws have come into effect [on 1st October]. The Search and Surveillance Act, which was passed through Parliament in March, extends production and examination orders to the police and legalises some forms of surveillance.
It will let more government agencies carry out surveillance operations, allows judges to determine whether journalists can protect their sources, and changes the right to silence. … The Bill was opposed by all opposition parties and the Maori Party.
It’s poor timing for an extension of powers. The police have been pulled up several times recently for crossing lines that should have been clear:
Catriona MacLennan: Time for inquiry on police actions
It is time for an independent review of the way in which the New Zealand Police carry out search and surveillance operations against New Zealanders.
A series of high-profile cases in which the courts have strongly criticised the police’s actions and imposed sanctions such as staying prosecutions demonstrates an extremely concerning state of affairs. The number of cases involved now makes it plain that these are not simply isolated examples of specific operations being botched: there is a systemic problem which must be addressed if the public is to have confidence in the New Zealand Police.
The Te Urewera Raids took place in October 2007. In the five years since then, courts ranging from the District Court to the Supreme Court have criticised police actions in the strongest terms when ruling on a number of different cases. The following are four examples. … [see original for details] …
The examples of unlawful police activity discussed above are of even more concern at present since, on October 1, the Search and Surveillance Act 2012 took effect. The new legislation has been hugely controversial and greatly expands the state’s power to conduct surveillance of individuals. It is therefore particularly important for the public to be confident that the new laws will be applied properly and will not be abused.
Given this litany of errors it is perhaps no wonder that “Trust in police hits new low survey shows”.
So who guards the guardians? Key has conspicuously failed to lead by example in managing the GCSB. Tolley has nothing to offer except excuses for the police. At the moment it seems to be entirely up to the courts (and for that they get harangued and accused of being on a “high horse” by commentators who should know better). While the courts seem to be doing a good job, that’s a method of last resort, and very much an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Before it reaches this level members of the public have already been subjected to a flawed process.
The checks and balances need to come earlier. Clear and well justified legislative boundaries, and a culture (led from the top down and applied at all levels) of scrupulously observing them. The recent extension of powers seems to invite further abuse of the former, and current events leave us with no confidence in the latter. Yet another mess for the next government to fix.