Alarm at 'draconian' leaked spy law

Last updated 19:01 23/11/2014

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Controversial "temporary" terror law changes to crack down on suspected foreign fighters will come before Parliament this week - and a leaked draft reveals they will be in place until 2018.

Previously unseen proposals would see the passports of wannabe jihadis cancelled while the holders are overseas, leaving them stateless - in a breach of an international ban.

And the Security Intelligence Service will be able to request a suspected terrorist be temporarily stripped of their travel documents for 10 working days without providing evidence.

This buys spies time to make a case for restricting travel.

Prime Minister John Key outlined plans to stop Kiwis leaving the country to join the Islamic State earlier this month.

He indicated the changes - which boost surveillance powers and allow passports to be cancelled for up to three years - would have a sunset clause and expire if not carried forward by a review of the intelligence services next year.

In response to the leak, Key released the final draft of legislation this afternoon.

He said he had been " as open as I can be with New Zealanders about that threat, without overstating it".

"As I said earlier this month, New Zealand's risk and threat profile is changing and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been successful in recruiting New Zealanders to its cause.

"This draft legislation contains measures that can add to the safety and security of New Zealand in the short-term."

Key repeated comments that the laws would be part of a review of security agencies next year, but said a full review would take much longer.

"The legislation is also subject to a sunset clause which reflects how long the full process of the more comprehensive review is expected to take," he said.

"I am working to seek broad political support for this legislation and my office is conducting those talks in good faith with a number of parties.

"We have also shared the draft legislation with a number of interested parties outside Parliament in order to give them additional time to consider it."

He confirmed the legislation would be introduced Tuesday and passed before the House rose for Christmas. 

The "restricted" legislation will be debated under urgency and passed within three weeks. The sunset clause does not expire until April, 2018.

The Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill will give police and the Security Intelligence access to Customs records and database, also not previously flagged by the Government.

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The Government has also agreed to boost the SIS budget by $7 million and the agency is recruiting more spies.

Key says the changes are necessary because intelligence agencies have compiled a watch list of 30 to 40 people who want to join Islamic extremists waging war across Iraq and Syria.

Internal affairs minster Peter Dunne has "strong misgivings" about the bill - but will support the legislation anyway.

Dunne says he will vote for the foreign fighters bill when it has a first reading in Parliament this week. But while he is happy with changes to passport law, he has "misgivings" proposals to give the intelligence services increased surveillance powers.

The new law would allow the Security and Intelligence to snoop for 48 hours without a warrant, in special circumstances. It also allows them to install convert cameras on private property.

"I do not support the provisions in Part Two to give the intelligence services increased surveillance powers, nor do I support the law changes the Bill makes being kept in place until 2018," he said from Los Angeles. 

That is simply too long for temporary law to be in place. Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee should be required to review this legislation and whether it should be continued by 1 April 2016."

Dunne threatened to scupper legislation expanding the powers of the Government Communications Security Bill in 2013, saying it went too far.  But after securing some concessions, including greater oversight, he agreed to vote for it, ensuring the controversial law squeaked through with one vote.

"I expended a lot of political capital in 2013 to make the intelligence services more transparent and accountable, and do not want to see those processes bypassed now," he said.

Earlier this month, Labour said they support moves to crack down on foreign fighters seeking to join Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. If they do back away, National are likely to retain ACT's support.

The Greens are also unlikely to support the legislation, although a final decision will be taken when MPs see the the bill this week. Co-leader Russel Norman is deeply concerned National is rushing through "further building blocks of the surveillance state before anyone can get a proper look at it".

He said: "It gives the SIS the legal right to break into your house without a warrant, install video cameras, videotape all your activities for 48 hours and hold on to all of that evidence."

Plans to render Kiwis stateless, without a trial, were "draconian and undemocratic", Norman said.

"You can be offshore, they take off your passport, you don't even know. And of course all of your travel documents - your visa for that country - become invalid.

"You can be locked up in that country for travelling without proper documents. You don't have any way to get home or anywhere else.

"This is the kind of thing the Chinese government does. You basically get convicted without a trial."

Islamic Women's Council spokeswoman Anjum Rahman says the fact that the Government has not yet made a case for the proposed law changes is "strongly uncomfortable".

"They are already able to cancel passports. There isn't a case for surveillance without a warrant - they haven't made one. And I, personally, feel vulnerable that I could be under surveillance for 48 hours without them having to give any reason."

She criticised the Government for a lack of communication with the Muslim community and wants more time for public submissions on the bill.

"They are using us for the reason for this legislation, but I have not seen or heard of any meaningful attempt to communicate with us."

She added: "The GCSB was found to have illegally spied on something like 88 people. That doesn't give us confidence that Government agencies will use their powers wisely.

"I appreciate that there is a need for security. I just don't believe there is a need to change the law."

The Bill allows:

❏ passports to be cancelled for up to three years by the Internal Affairs minister if the holder is "a danger to New Zealand or any other country"

❏ stripping a Kiwi of their passport while they are out of the country,  rendering them stateless. This appears to contravene the UN's universal declaration of human rights

❏ the minister to delay giving notice of a passport removal for 30 days if they believe it would endanger an intelligence operation

❏ government spooks to ask for a passport to be temporarily revoked for 10 days, without providing a briefing. The minister must be satisfied the subject is likely to travel within that time

❏ those subject to a cancellation to seek a judicial review - but intelligence agencies can withdraw classified information "in the interests of national security"

❏ SIS spooks to carry out surveillance without a warrant for 48 hours "in situations of emergency or urgency." 

❏  the SIS to place a camera or undertake "visual surveillance" on private property, with a warrant

❏ police and SIS agents to access Customs records "for counter terrorism purposes"

The government has also agreed to boost the SIS budget by $7 million and the agency is recruiting more spies.

* Comments on this story are now closed.

- Stuff


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