Spying, prying, eavesdropping – on you?
Memo Simon Power: Tell us it isn’t so. Explain, as Minister of Justice, that there’s been a total misunderstanding.
Make it absolutely clear that New Zealanders are still safe from bureaucratic intrusion, spying, eavesdropping and prying in their own homes.
All we need is for you to say that concerned solicitors were off beam when they went public.
They wrote in a worrying and apparently justified way about what they see – for good reason – as intrusive, unjust and frankly dangerous moves over people’s rights and private lives.
The two critics, Simon Peart and Richard May from influential Chapman Tripp, were highly critical of the Search and Surveillance Bill apparently now before Parliament. Among their warnings: “If you thought secret cameras in the ceiling, tracking devices under the car and bugs in the phones were the preserve of drug barons, you’re reckoning without this bill.”
Without any of that traditional “if your honour pleases” court-style chat, they spelt out their very real concerns. It’s frightening stuff. The bill includes a long list – too long for them to include, Richard May later told me – of departments and already powerful state entities like the Commerce Commission, the Reserve Bank and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to be given new and extended grunt in this previously unannounced move.
The bill specifies those authorities which could reach into private homes and personal lives in a big way.
As the critics spell it out, now most regulatory investigators are limited to making you produce documents or information, forcing people to answer questions and, in extreme cases, physical searches of property.
What the bill allows – perhaps “encourages” would be a better word – is real cloak and dagger, CIA and SIStype covert surveillance, including putting in secret recording gear to intercept calls or conversations, tracking devices to check staff movements and whereabouts, and cameras.
Those organisations on the long list will be able to covertly break in to install hidden spy devices.
As these critics see it, nothing will stop this sort of intrusion into homes of employees. Like your place. All that was enough to worry me and for Allan Mountain of Tauranga to reach for his smoking keyboard instantaneously and vent his genuine and obvious anger in a letter to me.
He included some angry comparisons with the walltomedia – and particularly TV – cover on the passing of a certain Mr Michael Jackson without any uproar about this piece of worrying law:
“Tell me if I’m wrong, but from my reading this is even more draconian than the surveillance regime in US with the Homeland Security Act.
“And there’s hardly been a murmur of protest.
“No doubt, like many such creeping initiatives – lawmaking that diminish our freedoms and invest absolute power in the hands of the government – this will pass sometime soon and there’ll be hardly any mention of it anywhere.
“Most of the population will not even know of its existence.
“I hate to say it, guys, but Kiwis are far more easily led into serfdom than our dumbed-down counterparts in the US – so what does that say about us?
“Even more disturbing is the fact that in the last few years the regulatory bodies in New Zealand commerce have not bothered to use the ample legislative teeth at their disposal.
“Instead, have sat on their hands while scum literally stole millions off hard-working, not very clever investors.
“They were aided and abetted by financial advisers who took heaps in commissions from both sides and – apart from some criminal proceedings having been brought against them too late, instigated well after the horse had bolted – the perpetrators will get to keep their ill-gotten gains in trusts.
“I predict if any convictions are secured that they will get hit across the back of the hand with a wet bus ticket.
“And I believe that in some cases the bills for defendants will be on the taxpayers’ account through legal aid since, for instance, (name deleted because of pending court action) has declared personal bankruptcy and so I understand qualifies for legal aid.
“This new legislation has nothing to do with keeping New Zealand business people honest.
“It is all about total control and sweeping surveillance for far more sinister future designs.
“We are living in New Zealalaland.”
You see, Simon, there are people out here who urgently need you to explain what and why and quickly. I am one of them.
Answers please. • Does the new bill really give these powers – and why? • Does it let investigators get a warrant and access to your letters to and from your lawyers? • If they do crash into offi or slyly get into homes can they really seize any papers “in plain sight”? • And what about those warrants? Now, warrants come from judges and the like. This bill talks about a new breed of official authorised to give warrants an okay. Who will these powerful people be and who will they answer to? • Is it true that investigators will be able to coerce your computer link provider to get into and copy from your system without you knowing about it? • Come on, Mr Power, do you agree with the critics that “home should be out of bounds – it is hard to justify covert surveillance of homes and family in the context of commercial or industry regulation”, as Simon Peart and Richard May say? • If all these major changes are intended, what’s the justification?
And where are the normally hard-working civil libertarians who carry banners so often in what they identify as dangers to democratic rule and long-established civil rights of ordinary, law-abiding citizens?
No one wants protection for thieving corporate ratbags like those who have cost so many their life savings and security.
But why put innocent people’s present and future rights at risk because of dishonesty and betrayal of trust by the guilty?
Is this perhaps well-intentioned but legally hazardous over-kill?